Profits perceived in a green future

The economics minister of a major German state talks to Tom Shelley about his expectations of an upturn and the financial benefits of thinking 'green'

. "German companies invest in recycling not out of altruism but to reduce costs," according to Harald Schartau, the minister for economic affairs and labour in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. "Engineers should aim to reduce the need to recycle and possible difficulties in recycling when they design a product. If the product is a coal fired power station, it should be energy efficient and reduce pollution. The Chinese might not pay for such a design, but environmental concerns are growing in most parts of the world. Fossil fuel power generation will continue for a long time. Demands for more energy efficient and less polluting designs will rise, and Germany will then have the technology to offer to achieve such goals. "We have a large competence in all aspects of solar, wind and hydrogen power. Shell and BP are investing heavily in these. Another large competence is in our ability to recycle waste and deal with brown field sites. We have been forced to develop methods to control air pollution and to deal with polluted soil. One of the big challenges is keeping these technologies cost effective." When asked whether alternative sources of energy were ever likely to be cost effective. Schartau replied that, "Some people argue that alternative sources will take five or ten years to become competitive, depending on the development of new technologies and materials. In my opinion, these technologies are not possible for energy intensive tasks such as aluminium reduction or steel making but in homes, they could become quite attractive, if over a long length of time." Asked about the German economy he claimed that, "All the automotive suppliers are convinced that 2004 will bring the economic upturn." He attributed this hope to planned reductions in taxes and a "Comprehensive proposal to lower taxes. A lot of heated discussions are taking place. People will take more responsibility for themselves. Germany is still very strong." This news is good for Britain, since he had earlier pointed out in a speech that, "British investment in Germany amounted to over 9 billion euros in 2002; German companies for their part invested around 18 billion euros in the UK in the same year. 70% of British companies in our state have been able to increase their revenue by an average of 110% over the past five years. Despite the current difficulties in the global economy, 30% of all British companies are planning further investments in our state. Business involvement, however, should never be seen as a one-way street. It is in the interest of both countries and the Single European Market, that the presence of companies of North-Rhine Westphalia in the UK is expanded too." The occasion was a DTI sponsored partnering event to improve trade relations between North-Rhine Westphalia and the South East of England. North-Rhine Westphalia has a population of 18 million and 700,000 "medium sized" companies. According to the minister, the state government believes its particular strengths are in: information and communication technology, environmental technology and waste management; energy, specifically renewable energy; biotechnology; medical technology, logistics and railway engineering. North-Rhine Westphalia information "German companies invest in recycling not out of altruism but to reduce costs"