RECP History

RECP: historical timeline


Pollution transgresses country boundaries

The United Nations (UN) Stockholm Conference focused international attention on environmental trans-boundary degradation and pollution. For the first time, nations admitted that pollution affects people and places beyond its point of origin and further afield than political or geographic boundaries dictate. Tangible threats to the future well-being of humans and the planet were tabled, including: climate change; the osone layer; depleting ocean and fresh water resources; deforestation; land degradation; hazardous waste; and loss of biological diversity.

Cleaner production coined

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) developed the Cleaner Production (CP) definition: “CP is the continuous application of an integrated preventative environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”. Complementary CP techniques and practices range from low or no-cost solutions to high investment, advanced clean technologies. The international community supported Cleaner Production initiatives in developing and transition countries since the early 1990s.

First Earth Summit (Rio)

Worldwide awareness of the inextricable link between environmental protection, natural resource management and the socio-economic issues of poverty and underdevelopment led to the first Earth Summit, involving 179 countries. "Sustainable development" (defined by the 1987 Brundtland Commission) became universally known as: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The Earth Summit initiated global joint efforts by supporters of economic development and environmental conservationists to reconcile the impact of human activities on the environment. The Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 (policies and programmes to achieve a sustainable balance between consumption, population and the Earth’s life-supporting capacity) were adopted at the Summit by all attending nations.

Cleaner developing nations targeted

In response, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) jointly launched the International Project on establishment of National Cleaner Production Centers (NCPCs), to advance sustainable industrial development, and consumption and production in developing and transition countries. Via their flagship National Cleaner Production Centres, UNEP and UNIDO adopted a multi-pronged approach (combining advocacy, training, industry demonstrations, policy advice and facilitation of technology transfer and investment with institutional development).

The NCPCs were established to deliver services to business, government and other stakeholders in their home country and to assist with the implementation of CP methods, policies, practices and technologies. Moreover, the NCPCs were expected to act as public advocates for CP. Each NCPC was initially set up as project that was hosted and executed by a national industry association, technical institute or university.

WWSD Joburg and establioshment of NCPC-SA


Wiser use of resources and production methods

After 14 years of experience, the NCPC Programme was reviewed, leading to UNEP and UNIDO launching the new Joint Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) Programme as a framework to ensure that NCPCs/NCPPs adhere to the triple bottom line of production efficiency, environmental conservation and human development. The Programme assists businesses and other organisations with scaling up and mainstreaming the application of RECP methods, techniques and policies by way of audits, training, information sharing and support to enable policy change, technology transfer and investment. The Programme’s success relies on effective networking, peer learning and knowledge management among NCPCs (and other organisations that deliver RECP services in developing and emerging economies).

At the first global RECP networking meeting in Switzerland, participants established RECPnet to facilitate effective North-South and South-South collaboration, knowledge and technology transfer. RECPnet runs a formalised web-based knowledge management system, regional and thematic group projects, capacity building initiatives, and advocacy and outreach. RECPnet also participates in 10YFP, Green Industry Platform and regional Roundtables on Sustainable Production and Consumption, including the African chapter, ARSCP.

47 Participant cleaner developing and transition nations

With support from the Governments of Switzerland and Austria and several other bilateral and multi-lateral donors, UNIDO and UNEP have expanded the Programme to 47 countries. The demand for establishing new national and sub-national or regional centres continues to be high. These NCPCs in developing and transition countries have trained national experts, conducted in-plant Cleaner Production (CP) assessments and shared their results and experiences with enterprises, governments, business and professional associations and civil society at large.

Over time, the NCPCs have become increasingly independent from UNEP and UNIDO, both administratively and financially. Opportunities and benefits have been demonstrated in numerous enterprises and a global network has been created is moving forward to scale-up and mainstream resource efficiency and sustainable production for green industry and economy.