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Blog: Paul Sanderson asks: who is the UK's resource efficiency champion?

Date: 12/12/2013 | Author: Paul Sanderson

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In Europe Janez Potocnik is a huge champion of resource efficiency, but the UK doesn't have its own version says Paul Sanderson

With the launch of the largely underwhelming Waste Prevention Programme for England yesterday, it got me thinking about who could be our equivalent of Janez Potocnik in the UK.

European Environment Commission Potocnik has been an exemplar of an energetic politician who has made a difference. He has put resource efficiency at the heart of the EU policy framework, and along with Ellen Macarthur, can be seen as a pioneer in getting ideas of resource efficiency and the circular economy a wider hearing.

I can't remember huge announcements about funding for EU projects on resource efficiency and the circular economy, but instead most of the work he has done has been about setting frameworks and promoting the message that this idea could be vital for Europe's economy.

Here in the UK, there is some excellent thinking going on among large companies such as Unilever or Bam as they recognise that their businesses need to be more resource efficient to thrive. Innovation is also taking place with the Technology Strategy Board seeking collaboration between large and small businesses, and research bodies such as universities to develop new resource efficient technologies.

But where is the UK Government minister shouting out about the transformative effect resource efficiency could have on the UK economy? How it could lead to huge savings for businesses, how it could create new sub-sectors in the economy serving the neeeds of our economy by making it more efficient and then that champion could help to put in place the conditions and frameworks to make this happen. 

So who could be our Janez Potocnik equivalent in the UK Government?

Let's start with the obvious choice. Dan Rogerson is the Resources Minister and could be the energetic champion working across Government to put resource efficiency on the agenda in every department. Let's be honest though, his initial letter to stakeholders and his Waste Prevention Programme haven't shown that level of committment to be the UK Potocnik.And as for Owen Paterson, I think it is fair to say he is much more interested in farming as a farmer himself.

The politician most engaged is Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, but he clearly represents Scotland, and as an SNP politician will be hoping that Scotland votes to leave the UK anyway. 

Good stuff is happening in Wales under Alun Davies, but with Wales being a small country, his ability to have an influence on the rest of the UK is limited.

Conservative MP Laura Sandys has impressed with her commitment and many will be looking forward to seeing the result of her 2020: Productivity and Efficiency Commission when it reports in January. However, with her having announced her intention to step down as an MP in May 2015, she will not have a huge amount of time to make a big difference before we get into the General Election cycle. For someone to become the UK Potocnik, it will need a person to take a resource efficient policy angle into the next Parliament to meet EU 2020 goals. Maybe she can work on finding another Conservative to take on her work after the 2015 election?

In terms of Labour, Gavin Shuker MP was enthusisatic about working with the waste and water industries and got to grips pretty quickly with the brief before he was moved into a shadow role in International Development. His successor Thomas Docherty has yet to engage in the same way, and neither has his boss Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle. 

So where does that leave us? Well, there isn't a UK politician currently doing the job that Janez Potocnik does in the UK in promoting resource efficiency.

Maybe for that to happen, we need to get the more business focussed politicians such as Vince Cable, Michael Fallon or Chuka Umunna on board. 

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