Sustainable development means meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Social, economic and environmental issues are inseparable and interdependent.
The EU has mainstreamed sustainable development policies through the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), and the Environmental Technologies Action Plan for which sustainable consumption and production (SCP) is a priority, and they are also highlighted in the Europe 2020 strategy.
SCP is in this context aimed at promoting economic growth and social cohesion without impairing environmental quality.
Europe needs economic growth in order to create jobs. And, in order to make growth sustainable, Europe needs a circular economy. This is why the Commission adopted the Package on the Circular Economy in December 2015.
The JRC supports such this objective through analysis of the relationships between technological change, scientific developments, the environment, the economy and policy approaches. Specifically, it produces techno-economic analysis of technological options and socio-economic analyses based on analytical modelling.
Sustainable production: Best available techniques
Industrial production processes account for a considerable share of the overall pollution in Europe. The EU has a set of common rules for controlling industrial installations described in the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU (IED).
The JRC manages The European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Bureau which produces reference documents on Best Available Techniques, the so-called BREFs, which are used by competent authorities in EU Member States when issuing operating permits.
BREFs incorporate best practices with regard to the resource use, residues and by-product’ reuse and recycling as well as waste generation and management, therefore contributing to the EU initiatives on Circular Economy.
Sustainable product policy
The consumption and production of products is responsible for a large number of environmental problems, ranging from pollution to air, water and soil to increased resource consumption and also negative health impacts. The European Commission addresses this issue through a number of policy instruments which are subsumed under the Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan COM (2008) 397 (as well as under the Circular Economy Action Plan COM(2015) 614 final).
These include mandatory and voluntary instruments, with the intention to exclude the most damaging products from the European single market, while at the same time giving increased visibility to environmental friendly products.
The Joint Research Centre operates the European Product Bureau which supports this work through scientifically assessing the environmental performance of a broad range of product groups and through the operational management of the policy implementation process for the European Ecolabel Regulation EC 66/2010, the Green Public Procurement Communication COM (2008) 400, the ErP Directive 125/EC/2009 (ecodesign requirements for energy-related products) and the Energy Labelling Directive 2010/30/EU.
Sustainable finance taxonomy
As part of the EU Action Plan “Financing Sustainable Growth”, the European Commission is developing an EU-wide classification of environmentally sustainable economic activities (known as the “EU sustainable finance taxonomy”) to be used for investment purposes. The taxonomy deals with six environmental objectives (climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation, sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control, and protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems). For a range of economic activities across various sectors, the taxonomy provides technical screening criteria (metrics and thresholds) defining substantial contribution to an objective and ensuring no significant harm to all the other objectives.
The Joint Research Centre contributes to elaborating the technical screening criteria and supports the overall development of the taxonomy both in terms of concepts, methodologies and process as well as in terms of evidence-based input to its content.
Best environmental management practice
As contribution to the Environmental Technologies Action Plan the Joint Research Centre produces techno-economic research on the environmental performance of products, sectors and production processes in order to sustain on evidence-based analysis indications on environmental policies.
It also identifies the best environmental management practices – measures or actions that allow organisations to minimise their impact on the environment—of frontrunner organisations in different sectors to help other organisations to detect and replicate them.
Waste and recycling
In support to the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the JRC has developped a set of guidance documents on how to use Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in waste management decision making. The guidance documents can be found on the Life Cycle Thinking website.
Moreover, the JRC contributions have supported a shift in policy focus from mere waste management towards the development of a circular economy. Following earlier work on end-of-waste criteria for high quality waste streams, more recent JRC activities include developing nutrient recovery rules for waste based fertilisers, exploring untapped potential in waste-to-energy, as well as reviewing Best Available Techniques for the management of extractive waste.
Development of the Environmental Footprint methods supports the Communication on Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, by establishing a common methodological approach to enable Member States and the private sector to assess, display and benchmark the environmental performance of products, services and companies based on a comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts over the life-cycle.
The JRC’s input-output economics investigates through analytical modelling the impacts at regional, national or international level of different policies on variables such as gross domestic product, employment, consumption, productivity as well as on the environment. To this end, JRC develops tools for analysis complemented with an environmental database.