Advertisement

An Introduction to Resource Efficiency: Concepts and Definitions

  • Stijn van EwijkEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

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.

References

  1. Aidt T, Jia L, Low H (2017) Are prices enough? The economics of material demand reduction. Philos Trans R Soc A Math Phys Eng Sci 375(2095):20160370.  https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2016.0370 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allwood JM, Cullen JM, Milford RL (2010) Options for achieving a 50% cut in industrial carbon emissions by 2050. Environ Sci Technol 44(6):1888–1894.  https://doi.org/10.1021/es902909k CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barker T, Ekins P, Foxon T (2007) The macro-economic rebound effect and the UK economy. Energ Policy 35(10):4935–4946.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2007.04.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bleischwitz R (2001) Rethinking productivity: why has productivity focussed on labour instead of natural resources? Environ Resour Econ 19:23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chertow MR (2000) The IPAT equation and its variants. J Ind Ecol 4(4):13–29.  https://doi.org/10.1162/10881980052541927 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooper DR, Skelton ACH, Moynihan MC, Allwood JM (2014) Component level strategies for exploiting the lifespan of steel in products. Resour Conserv Recycl 84:24–34.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2013.11.014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cullen JM (2017) Circular economy: theoretical benchmark or perpetual motion machine? J Ind Ecol 21(3):483–486.  https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12599 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dahmus JB (2014) Can efficiency improvements reduce resource consumption? J Ind Ecol 18(6):883–897.  https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12110 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daly H (1990) Sustainable development: from concept and theory to operational principles. Popul Dev Rev 16(1990):25–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. EC (2011) Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe. COM (2011) 571 FinalGoogle Scholar
  11. EC (2015) Closing the loop – an EU action plan for the circular economyGoogle Scholar
  12. EC (2016) EU resource efficiency scoreboard 2015Google Scholar
  13. Ehrlich PR, Holdren JP (1971) Impact of population growth. Science 171(3977):1212–1217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ekins P (2000) Economic growth and environmental sustainability: the prospects for green growth. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. Elkington J (1997) Cannibals with forks: the triple bottom line of 21st century business. Capstone, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  16. Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2012) Towards a circular economy: business rationale for an accelerated transitionGoogle Scholar
  17. Filatova T, Polhill JG, van Ewijk S (2016) Regime shifts in coupled socio-environmental systems: review of modelling challenges and approaches. Environ Model Softw 75:333–347.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2015.04.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fischer-Kowalski M, Swilling M (2011) Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growthGoogle Scholar
  19. Hertwich E (2005) Consumption and the rebound effect: an industrial ecology perspective. J Ind Ecol 9:85–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. IEA (2007) Tracking industrial energy efficiency and CO2 emissionsGoogle Scholar
  21. JRC/IES (2010) International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) handbook – general guide for life cycle assessment – detailed guidanceGoogle Scholar
  22. Krausmann F, Gingrich S, Eisenmenger N, Erb KH, Haberl H, Fischer-Kowalski M (2009) Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecol Econ 68(10):2696–2705.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.05.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Krausmann F, Gingrich S, Eisenmenger N, Erb KH, Haberl H, Fischer-Kowalski M (2011) Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century: Online global materials extraction 1900–2009 (update 2011). http://www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/inhalt/3133.htm. Accessed 28 Mar 2017
  24. Krausmann F, Wiedenhofer D, Lauk C, Haas W, Tanikawa H, Fishman T et al (2017) Global socioeconomic material stocks rise 23-fold over the 20th century and require half of annual resource use. Proc Natl Acad Sci 114(8):201613773.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1613773114 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Landmann O (2004) Employment, productivity and output growth. Employment strategy papers, 65–86Google Scholar
  26. Maddison A (2007) The world economy, 1950–2001. In: Publishing O (ed) The world economy: volume 1: a millennial perspective and volume 2: historical statistics, vol 30. OECD, Paris, pp 1467–1497Google Scholar
  27. Malthus TR (1798) An essay on the principle of population. J. Johnson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Mankiw N (2006) Principles of microeconomics, vol 10. Cengage Learning, BostonGoogle Scholar
  29. McDowall W, Geng Y, Huang B, Barteková E, Bleischwitz R, Türkeli S et al (2017) Circular economy policies in China and Europe. J Ind Ecol 21(3):651–661.  https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12597 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McGlade C, Ekins P (2015) The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 517(7533):187–190.  https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Meadows DH, Meadows DL, Randers J, Behrens WW III (1972) The limits to growth: a report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. Potomac Associates – Universe Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  33. Natural Capital Committee (2014) The state of natural capital: protecting and improving natural capital for prosperity and wellbeingGoogle Scholar
  34. O’Mahony M, Timmer MP (2009) Output, input and productivity measures at the industry level: the EU KLEMS database. Econ J 119(538):374–403.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0297.2009.02280.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. OECD (2008) Measuring material flows and resource productivity. Vol 1 – The OECD guide, vol III. OECD, ParisGoogle Scholar
  36. Pivnenko K, Laner D, Astrup TF (2016) Material cycles and chemicals: dynamic material flow analysis of contaminants in paper recycling. Environ Sci Technol 50(22):12302–12311.  https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.6b01791 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Revell A (2005) Ecological modernization in the UK: rhetoric or reality? Eur Environ 15(6):344–361.  https://doi.org/10.1002/eet.399 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sauter R, Watson J (2008) Technology leapfrogging: a review of the evidence: A report for DFID. Tyndal Center for Climate Change Report, OctoberGoogle Scholar
  39. Scheffer M, Carpenter S, Foley J a, Folke C, Walker B (2001) Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413(6856):591–596.  https://doi.org/10.1038/35098000 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Steffen W, Richardson K, Rockström J, Cornell SE, Fetzer I, Bennett EM et al (2015) Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 348(6240):1217.  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa9629 Google Scholar
  41. Stern DI (2014) The environmental Kuznets Curve: a primer. CCEP Working Paper, (1404).  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econlet.2005.03.004
  42. Stricks V, Hinterberger F, Moussa J (2015) Developing targets for global material usetpdel. IntRESS Working Paper 2.3Google Scholar
  43. UN (2010) ABC of SCP: clarifying concepts on sustainable consumption and productionGoogle Scholar
  44. UN (2015a) Paris agreementGoogle Scholar
  45. UN (2015b) World population prospects: the 2015 revisionGoogle Scholar
  46. Van Ewijk S, Stegemann JA (2016) Limitations of the waste hierarchy for achieving absolute reductions in material throughput. J Clean Prod 132:122–128.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.051 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Van Ewijk S, Stegemann JA, Ekins P (2017) Global life cycle paper flows, recycling metrics, and material efficiency. J Ind Ecol.  https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12613
  48. Veblen T (1899) The theory of the leisure class: an economic study of institutions. J Polit Econ 7:425–425.  https://doi.org/10.1086/250610 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Von Weizsäcker EU, Lovins AB, Lovins LH (1997) Factor four: doubling wealth-halving resource use: the new report to the Club of Rome. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  50. Wiedmann TO, Schandl H, Lenzen M, Moran D, Suh S, West J, Kanemoto K (2015) The material footprint of nations. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112(20):6271–6276.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1220362110 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations