Contribution of the European Intermodal Association (EIA)on Innovation

Klaus Ebeling, EIA Secretary GeneralTop down? - Bottom up!

by Klaus EBELING, EIA Secretary General

The Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change showed that, while everybody was agreed on the dangers for the future, political change was impossible. This is not really surprising and we should not waste time complaining. There are always conflicts of interests when politicians have to address issues affecting long-term national or international strategies.

Nationally, politicians have to rely on voter support. Since most are elected for four or five year periods, courageous long-term policies tend to come to a halt, when less than palatable positions are rejected by the majority of by a vital coalition partner.
Where international relations are concerned, it has been amply demonstrated - including recently in a scientific study led by Clemens Fuest of Oxford University - that individual states tend to follow tough egocentric policies. Any government that applies policies based on moral considerations loses its ability to exert pressure on other States.

There is however a chance that realpolitik among industrial players might prove more successful. At least there are clear signs of a change in mindset and behaviour.

In recent years, the concept of the environment, sustainability or "green" issues in general have gone beyond mere declarations by political parties and have been picked up in advertising campaigns launched in industrial and marketing circles. Even though some of these companies may only be speculating on customer awareness, it remains a fact that they have adapted their approach. Given that, despite the ongoing economic crisis, there is a tendency to revert to our bad habits, the results may not always be spectacular. But there is no need for panic: it would be unrealistic to believe that change would prompt a utopian U-turn.

For more than 15 years, EIA has been arguing in favour of reasonable and sustainable solutions for the transport sector, since growth-oriented traffic development is not where the future of the transport industry lies. Instead, the solution should consist of an intelligent combination of competition and cooperation for producers and consumers throughout the logistics chain. Intermodal solutions need to be developed taking all existing transport modes into consideration. From this approach, we can expect new innovative proposals which today at best remain the province of the futurologists. However, the conditions needed for a "better world" can only be obtained by taking steps towards a set of braver and more decisive innovations and modifications. Many of the projects chosen for the EIA "best-practices" award have shown that environmental awareness and prosperity can be successfully combined.

In its report on sustainability, the auditing company KPMG analysed the one hundred companies generating the greatest turnover in Germany and the world. Beside economic reasons for their decisions in favour of sustainable solutions, there was strong emphasis on social accountability and ethical issues. The study showed that companies were increasingly focusing on compliance with environmental and social standards in their choice of contractors. In this context, in particular, environmental awareness related essentially to carbon footprint. The risks inherent in a global supply chain are evidently higher in a globalised world. Consequently, it would be wise to look at the problem from a broader perspective, where entrepreneurial activities must meet sustainability criteria throughout the value added chain.

Globalisation of our economy offers an opportunity for a complete change of mindset. The challenge will be that of achieving economic success consistent with individual and common interests. Famous scientists such as Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize 2001) and Elinor Ostrom (Nobel Prize 2009) have been the intelligent pioneers for such an approach and offer politicians guidelines on how to create the necessary regulatory framework.

Why not take industry's declarations seriously and go for a bottom-up approach? This might encourage those in political circles to opt for more determined or courageous strategies. The essential precondition is, of course, that the technical and economic feasibility of any new solution will have to be proved. This is part of EIA's role and something we are trying to achieve in cooperation with both industry and the political institutions, and with our partners in the associative world.