An Introduction to Resource Efficiency: Concepts and Definitions

  • Stijn van EwijkEmail author


This chapter clarifies the concepts, definitions, possibilities, and limitations of resource efficiency. It first explores the context and history of resource efficiency thinking by reviewing important ideas on the sustainable use of resources. It argues that resource efficiency, and the related concept of the circular economy, are optimistic perspectives on the relation between the economy and the natural environment. A conceptual map of resource efficiency describes its main components and clarifies its main purpose: to minimize material inputs, maximize economic outputs, and respect the limits of the environment. A summary of limitations to efficient and circular use of material resources is provided. The chapter then turns to historical consumption of resources and its main drivers—population, affluence, and technology. The basic linkages between resource use and the economy are briefly discussed and the difference between the economic and engineering view on efficiency is shown. Finally, the environmental impacts of resources are discussed from a life-cycle perspective. The chapter concludes by synthesizing three major challenges for marrying environmental and economic goals: the lack of alignment between individual company performance and total life-cycle impacts, the environmental rebound effect, and physical limits to efficient and circular use of materials.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Sustainable ResourcesUniversity College London (UCL)LondonUK

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