Viewpoint: People are strange - we want changes but unfortunately we don't want to change

  • September 27, 2019
  • Rematec

Product value retention is a bit more complex than just remanufacturing but to put it in context is helpful. The story starts with one of the biggest problems of all: a quote from Jim Morrison of The Doors said; ‘People are strange.’ The real essence of that is that we want changes but unfortunately we don’t want to change. What are the major things we have to deal with? In the middle of the century there will be nine billion people on the planet. The richest 1% is more wealthy than the rest of the world; 800 million people are hungry and over two billion are obese. 

The economy is the core of the problem. The signals we are sending through the price system to the market decide where the quantities will be met: financial capital is over-valued and over-rewarded; human capital under-valued, under-rewarded; natural capital, more or less not valued and not rewarded at all. If anyone believes we will land in socio-economic and environmental balance, he should wake up – because this will never happen: the signals which are reaching the market are simply the wrong signals.

As European Commissioner I heard 100 times that I could not introduce various measures because ‘these are additional costs’. No: these are the costs which are existing – but we are denying them. We’d rather see that they are paid by the health system or by future generations – because they cannot complain (although even they have started to complain now). 

In the last 50 years, global resource use has more than tripled – the majority is connected with economics, not population growth. We are not against economic growth. But we have to decouple that growth from the growth of resources – and both should be decoupled from the environmental impact, or we will never solve the problems we have. The circular economy is an instrument to deliver decoupling. 

Recycling is the worst of the good: when you recycle, you have used the resources already – the damage is done. So it’s essential that we focus on the value-retention story.

Janez Potocnik

Co-chair of the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel and former European Commissioner for the Environment

This is an edited version of a presentation at the European Remanufacturing Council’s annual meeting during Rematec 2019.
 

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