Our report on the Future of non-ferrous metals (NFM) has just been published!
This report comes at the end of a yearlong process during which the EU Policy Lab worked with representatives of the non-ferrous metals industry and other associations from this sector, researchers, trade unions and our EU-policy-making colleagues.
First we identified the main agents of change and analysed the production and consumption system of the NFM industry to co- create a 2050 vision for the sector. You can read more about that in this previous blog post. We then imagined realistic situations (mini-scenarios) that could illustrate the challenges faced on the way towards the vision. We confronted our stakeholders with these challenges to make them identify the actions that should be taken to stand a reasonable chance to reach the vision for 2050. We challenged them from different perspectives: trade, resources, innovation, skills…This created a robust, systemic approach to identify actions. The instructions were to formulate clear, actionable recommendations for the industry itself, for policy-makers, for research, and for other stakeholders such as associations and trade unions.
Many valuable insights and suggestions came out of the discussion:
- Trade and competition: The overarching call was for EU trade policies to ensure a global level-playing field for non-ferrous metals as the EU industry is a price taker. High European standards (especially ethical and environmental) enforced internationally were perceived as a key component of this effort together with targeted defence measures against protectionism. Differentiating European non-ferrous metals products through quality was also perceived as a key element.
- Innovation: High quality NFM products require the industry to embrace a culture of innovation, to better understand end-consumers’ needs, to think systematically across the value chain and to collaborate with smaller players in the downstream sectors. The importance of communication and marketing tools all contribute to the industry’s efforts to develop and sell innovative solutions was also noted. This must be combined with technological innovations to combine non-ferrous metals with new composites, to create smart materials with embedded intelligence, to improve resource efficiency, to make NFM manufacturing more flexible and to be able to harness big data. This requires policy to provide a long-term innovation- and investment-friendly support to the industry.
- Resources: In the current context, addressing the circularity challenges is crucial. A core idea was for the industry to increase its control of materials throughout the value chain by developing, for instance, take-back schemes and toll contracts. Reducing energy costs, investing in energy efficiency, acting as a virtual battery or as a grid stabiliser and pressuring for competitive prices for renewables are other desirable actions. Technology is crucial to improve recycling processes and to trace and capture secondary raw materials. As to policy actions, deploying the full potential of the Energy Union, understanding and incentivising consumer’s behaviour for scrap sorting and collection, and adopting risk-based rather than hazard-based regulations are among the actions called for.
- Business integrity: The sector faces challenges regarding the unsustainable sourcing of raw materials in developing countries. Recommended actions include increasing the traceability and transparency of primary materials sourcing (e.g. through impact assessment technologies and embedded digital tools), developing internal and external auditing systems and better communicating the value of the sector to the general public.
- Skills: Without the right skills and know-how, the industry faces an uncertain future. This creates specific challenges regarding the transmission and the up-skilling of knowledge. As a result, it is necessary to combat the bad image that the sector sometimes has as it hampers its ability to attract qualified skills. Other strategies can be applied to attract talent: improve pay and working conditions, promote gender equality, provide internal trainings, and develop joint initiatives with vocational educational institutions.
We invite you to read the Future of Non Ferrous Metals report to find out more.