Nancy, 9 June 2016 Despite the unexpected strain on resources due to the growth in China, there is at the moment no risk of shortage of raw materials, neither bulk nor critical, according to Philippe Varin, Chairman of the World Materials Forum. Materials sourcing will however require sophisticated forecasting. The present slowdown in global growth and the dramatic drop in prices does not eliminate or alleviate the consequences of a potential disruption in materials availability due to the exponential growth of the needs of the middle class consumers throughout the world. Beyond the short term easing of materials availability, the problem remains acute, and “we need to keep on mobilizing energies to solve it.” New opportunities can offer massive progress, either by technology breakthroughs or by continuous innovation.
“We will see that these opportunities will give us the means to match those exponential needs.” The best way to predict the future is to shape it, he said. “Decoupling economic growth with materials consumption requires a breakthrough in mindset as well as technologies that will shape the future in materials.” Varin, who is also Chairman of Areva and a Board Member of Saint Gobain, spoke at the occasion of the World Materials Forum (WMF) in Nancy, France, where over 200 global industry leaders, academics and policymakers gathered in June this year.
Varin recommended stronger efforts on measuring progress in raw materials management at local and global level. “We have experienced in the discussions around climate change that setting a measurement of carbon and putting a price on it, are key success factors in reducing C02 emissions. Such lesson is also valid for materials, but we are lacking adequate key performance indicators (KPIs). Those we have today are either too rudimentary (the 70 kg of raw materials used to produce a 100 g smartphone), too general (the ratio of materials/GDP), or too sophisticated (life cycle analysis), to be used by corporate leaders, academics and politicians in order to make decisions and drive materials efficiency.”
The conference sought for ways to “produce less and longer” by “matching the explosive needs of the growing middle class of the planet with exponential innovation”. Varin: “Decoupling economic growth with materials use and dividing by 2 the materials intensity of our growth is not blue sky thinking. If you compound a progress of 10% on each of the components of the “less and longer” roadmap the dream can become reality.” He referred to many promising technologies that have the potential to develop in an exponential way, mainly due to two factors: digitalization, infusing manufacturing process as well as design and research; and globalization, which accelerates the spreading of innovation.
With regard to global resource governance, one of the priority topics on the agenda of the World Resources Forum, Varin commented that leaving only to the market the task of arbitraging between long term concerns and short terms benefit puts the sustainability of our development at risk. “As for climate change, an appropriate level of regulation is definitely required to address the question of potential scarcity of resources on the long run, for the benefit of all. The market forces must be driven by an appropriate regulatory framework.”
World Resources Forum (WRF) President, Xaver Edelmann praised the WMF for giving such excellent insights from business leaders’ perspective on how to proceed towards more sustainable use of raw materials in industry. He referred to standards, such as developed by the WRF’s Sustainable Recycling Industry ISO Workshop Agreement Roundtable as alternatives for governmental regulation.
About the conference
Plenary sessions and workshops dealt with “Prospective study on some critical materials”, “KPIs for materials efficiency”, “3D printing for zero material waste”, “Catch up plastics packaging waste”, “Internet of things for reduced materials intensity”, “New materials combinations for building and housing”, “Materials solutions for lightweighting”, “New mobility models for increase car usage rates”. Speakers included among others CEO’s and leaders of Rio Tinto Diamonds & Minerals, Ivanhoe Capital Corporation, BRGM, CRU, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Solvay, Airbus Group ESCP Europe, Valspar. Most of the presentations can be downloaded from the WMF website.
WMF Vice-Chair Victoire de Margerie will be among the speakers of a global resource governance session at the European Resources Forum, to be held in Berlin, 9-10 November 2016, organised and chaired by the World Resources Forum in cooperation with the German Environment Agency (UBA).