Potočnik said that introducing resource efficiency targets for member states is "one of the serious questions" under consideration as the EU executive prepares its roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe, due in June.
"This time we are firmly and actively working towards this direction. And I think it is an important thing to be considered. It was proven in the past that when targets were set in a smart way they very good drivers for the development of our economies," he added.
The upcoming roadmap will propose new policy initiatives that enhance synergies between existing policies and identify the changes needed to achieve the transition to a resource-efficient economy.
Meanwhile, the Commission has adopted a Communication on a resource-efficient Europe, which sets out a strategic policy framework to deliver a more sustainable use of natural resources and the shift towards resource-efficient growth.
It is the last of the seven flagship initiatives to be adopted under the long-term 'Europe 2020' strategy, aimed at delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by the end of the decade.
Presenting the initiative, Commissioner Potočnik stressed that the 20th Century has seen the world's population quadruple, output grow 40 times, fish catches 35 times, water consumption nine times, CO2 emissions 17 times and energy consumption 16 times. "We can simply not continue like that," he said.
"We can bail out banks and our economy but not our planet," he said, stressing that the new communication presents a framework for the "gradual transformation of our economy” and marks the start of "a systemic approach to resource efficiency" within all EU policies.
Mainstreaming resource efficiency into legislation
The flagship initiative on resource efficiency addresses all natural resources, from raw materials to food, water, air and ecosystems and establishes it as the guiding principle for EU policies on energy, transport, climate change, industry, commodities, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development.
It also sets an integrated framework and long-term agendas for these policies, and lists twenty-odd initiatives to be tabled throughout 2011 with concrete proposals to deliver on the resource-efficient Europe flagship.
These range from a roadmap to a low-carbon economy by 2050 to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, a new EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, reform of cohesion policy and measures regarding commodity markets and raw materials (see full list in the annex to the communication).
The concrete proposals to be tabled will seek to exploit synergies to secure win-win eco-innovations that are good for business and the environment, like for example rewarding consumers for recycling, leading to less energy demand.
But they will also address trade-offs between policy options to avoid undesirable consequences – such as in the glass sector, where super-insulating glass takes more energy to produce, but it decreases the amount of energy required to heat a building during its use.
Another example of trade-offs is the use of land for food and energy production, which may compete with land allocated for biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as carbon capture.
Potočnik stressed that the flagship initiative is "not about promoting only a green niche economy but about greening the entire economy. This is why we will integrate resource efficiency, within the European semester process, as from the next year".