Resource Efficiency refers to a means of achieving more productive use of resources. By taking the whole lifecycle of resources into account – from the extraction of raw materials to final use and waste disposal – and considering them from a value chain perspective, practitioners can identify opportunities to reduce waste.
Analyzing value chains can help to identify potential externalities that might not be immediately perceptible over the long-term or within certain geographical boundaries.
A way of looking at cities and all the resources that flow within their complex networks (“material flows”) of interlocked social and physical infrastructure. It conceptualizes the city as living super-organism in which there are continuous flows of inputs and outputs helps in the study of the patterns of movements of matter and energy. This helps identify opportunities for sustainable resource management and can be linked with infrastructure in order to find alternative ways of using resources sustainably.
High Potential for Savings Through Resource Efficiency
Water savings globally through minor investment and behavioral change
Energy savings potential in existing buildings through behavioral change and application of readily available and low-cost technologies.
Investment required for urban infrastructure in the next 20 years: Greater resource efficiency – in water, waste, transport and energy- could generate significant savings by reducing infrastructure needs and operating costs.
Concepts Related to Resource Efficiency
Table by Dodman, D., Diep, L., and Colenbrander, S. (2017). Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities. UN Environment. Available here.
Defined as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987).
Premised on a use of resources by current generations that does not interfere with the capacity of future generations to reach a similar level of well-being. Implies that current generations should pursue efficient resource management (Jansen, 2013).
A green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive (UNEP 2011).
The definition of a green economy makes explicit reference to resource efficiency as one of its key pillars.
A planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity to develop and thrive, according to nine defined biophysical processes that regulate the earth’s system (Rockström et al., 2009). It provides a science-based analysis of the risks caused by human activities interfering with the earth’s natural functions (although is less directly relevant at the scale of cities (Steffen et al., 2015).
Relevant for considering integrated approaches that recognise trans-boundary use and protection of natural resources.
This framework can also inform the definition of resource efficiency targets at city-level.
The environmental footprint is a means of measuring the impacts of a person, company, activity, product, etc. on the environment. An ultimate aim of this measurement is to reduce the environmental footprint of actors by conserving, restoring, and replacing the natural resources they use (Jensen, 2013). The framework has been applied specifically to cities (Wackernagel et al. 2006).
A focus on environmental footprints can be an important driver for resource efficiency.
The maximum amount of carbon that can be emitted to the atmosphere in order to avoid dangerous climate change with a translation in terms of a maximum of fossil fuels we can extract from the ground (IPCC, 2013).
Developing policies that will enable to manage carbon budgets require management of resources in a way that minimises emissions and waste production.
Relative decoupling refers to a lower rate in growth of a type of environmental pressure in relation to the rate of growth of a related economic activity. Absolute decoupling refers to an environmental pressure either remaining stable or decreasing while the related economic activity increases (Watson et al., 2014).
Decoupling can contribute directly to resource efficiency. Cleaner production practices and technologies provide opportunities for small business development and the creation of green jobs (UNEP, 2010; Swilling et al., 2013).
Poverty alleviation and equity
Current patterns of production and consumption lead to a wasteful use of resources – but also to inequality and poverty (Rode and Burnett, 2011; UNEP, 2011).
Resource efficiency can lead to investment in the creation of jobs and the enhancement of human well-being.
Upcoming GI-REC Events
- GI-REC explains Urban Metabolism11 September 2017 - 09:29
- Publication uploaded: Urban Metabolism for Resource-Efficient Cities: from Theory to Implementation11 September 2017 - 08:17
- Integrating Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities – a Session at the Resilient Cities Congress 201726 June 2017 - 14:16
- Partners’ Meeting held during the Resilient Cities Congress in Bonn, Germany on 4 May 201712 May 2017 - 12:20
- Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities5 May 2017 - 14:00