Developing effective strategies for ensuring that the potential trade-off between growth and environmental well-being can be minimized is a necessary call to action in this era where mankind is struggling to maintain a balance between raw material usage and waste generation to achieve goals towards Environmental Sustainability. Enhancing Resource Efficiency and promoting the use of secondary raw materials is slowly emerging as a strategy that has the potential to stabilize raw material supply for industry and reduce pressures on the ecosystem by effectively reducing the amount of wastes generated.

Resource Efficiency has also been acknowledged globally by experts in creating many green jobs. Moreover, efficient use of resources has also been noted to provide substantial economic benefits through cost reduction linked to less extraction for virgin raw material. This benefits banks on the fact if the secondary raw material is made available. Fostering resource efficiency will require the appropriate use of environmentally sound technologies and processes, reducing the overall footprint of consumption and production, and mitigating negative side effects on society.

Background and evolution of Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency or resource productivity is the ratio between a given benefit or result and the natural resource use required for it.

Resource Efficiency covers multiple life cycle phases throughout a specific resource’s full production, use, reuse, and eventual disposal, typically involving a broad range of innovation, method, policy, and organizational problems related to production, usage, and end-of-life product life cycles. The concept of Resource Efficiency is directly connected to the Circular Economy. Businesses have the opportunity to take the lead in the context of realizing resource efficiency and circular economy while the government can create enabling conditions for facilitating the transition. The 6R principles namely reduce, reuse, recycle, remanufacture, repair, and refurbish, is key to driving resource efficiency, across different sectors/products and resources. This, as a result, brings together different stakeholders across multiple sectors by necessitating a coordinated approach to strategy and action.

Resource efficiency is a key idea that is emerging in the political mainstream and G20 countries are integrating the circular economy as part of implementation strategies for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The concept has been one of the important discussion points in G20 Agenda and is globally recognized as a key element of Sustainable Development to promote the nations towards judicious use of resources and thus will help them in achieving SDG -12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production.

Life Cycle Assessment

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the factual analysis of a product’s entire life cycle in terms of sustainability. In the right, LCA is a comprehensive tool that studies and takes into account both qualitative and quantitative aspects of a resource/product’s entire lifetime, from its manufacture to transport to consumption to disposal. LCA is a key instrument in evaluating a resource/product’s sustainability as it enables us to assess the product or service’s environmental effects from manufacturing to disposal. Thus, it is aptly called the concept of “Cradle to Grave”.

LCA is indeed a standardized methodology, which gives it its reliability and transparency. The standards are provided under the ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This, as a result, breaks down the LCA methodology into four main phases.

  • Goal and scope: The most important (often subjective) choices are described, such as the reason for executing the LCA, a precise definition of the product and its life cycle, and a description of the system boundaries. This ensures the LCA is performed consistently.
  • Inventory analysis: You look at all of a product or service’s environmental sources and outputs, such as raw materials and energy use, pollutant emissions, and waste flows.
  • Impact assessment:  You classify the environmental impacts, evaluate them by what is most important to your company, and translate them into environmental themes to draw the conclusions that allow you to make better business decisions.
  • Interpretation: This is a crucial stage the analyzing personnel test whether the corresponding conclusions of the analysis are adequately supported by the data and by the procedures used to ensure that your conclusions are well-substantiated.
resource efficiency
Source: Research helps Europe advance towards circular economy;

Material Flow Analysis

Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is an important tool in the field of Environmental Resource planning and management and commonly includes the quantification and appropriate assessment of matter and substances mass flows and processes, during a specified time period in a system (town, city, state, nation, etc.). Here the matter usually includes water, food, excreta, wastewater, etc. while the substances considered include nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, etc. A typical MFA is regulated by the law of conservation of matter and enables to identify issues and quantify the effect on resource recovery and environmental pollution of future interventions. The MFA researched quantities are displayed either in kg/year or kg/capita/year.

Together with LCA, this instrument is widely used to compare various sanitation technology alternatives with respect to their economic and economic effects. The primary object here usually is to support decision-making for choosing within different sanitation options. Chemical elements such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), carbon (C) or CO2 and NH3 are generally considered as “Indicator substances” for MFA. These indicator substances can either be classified as pollutants (e.g. eutrophication) or resources (e.g. fertilizers in agriculture).

Because MFA has several logical benefits when used in resource management, it can be used for a wide spectrum of purposes and projects, particularly in the fields of environmental impact assessments, creation of environmental policy for hazardous substances, the leadership of nutrients in watersheds, waste management, and sanitation planning.

Salient features of MFA:

  • Allows having a critical view of sanitation/water management current status in a city
  • Helps to evaluate the environmental soundness of sanitation options
  • Can be used as a decision tool to choose sustainable sanitation technology
  • An ideal technical basis for planning and decision making, especially in developing and emerging countries with limited technical and financial resources
  • MFA has been proven to be a suitable tool for early detection of environmental problems and the development of appropriate solutions in developing countries.

MFA includes calculating and comparing the amount of ammonia or phosphorus flows within the town to assess each sanitation engineering option’s environmental soundness. This enables decision-makers significantly to select the finest alternatives that do not pollute groundwater-surface water and enable the recycling of nutrients.

LCA and MFA in context with Resource Efficiency

Since Circular Economy is a long-standing undertaking, material stocks ‘ lifetime implies that today’s elevated recycling levels will only be transformed into elevated recycled content in the future, sometimes in the long run. LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) and MFA (Materials Flow Analysis) are two significant instruments to address these problems.

Though the concept and objectives behind LCA and MFA are roughly the same, they are distinct from one another when it comes to time scale. LCA-based strategies are on a microeconomic scale and macroeconomic scale is MFA. Combining both, one receives the most suitable instruments to mirror the functioning of the socio-economic structure and thus prevent adverse rebound effects. These tools are an important element to help understand that it will not be enough to foster technological R&D and to achieve R&I, simply because the rationale for moving in this direction is environmental and political.

The Rationale for Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency is adopted by numerous nations around the globe and is carried out primarily in order to govern and intensify the use of resources in a purposeful and effective manner in order to achieve the maximum possible benefit with the least possible input of resources. This helps to attain the three dimensions of economic, social, and environmental growth in sustainable development. Sustainable Development, by its very definition, must also take into consideration three critical aspects related to resource equity and access.

  • All human beings must have access to a minimum level of income and environmental quality for dignified sustenance, regardless of their location in the global socio-economic-environmental matrix.
  • It also must ensure that the burdens, risks, and benefits of resource use and conservation are equitably distributed in society.
  • Resource-efficient production and consumption practices must take into account the needs of future generations by conserving access to resources.

Key components

There are three major components that form a RE strategy at the national level which are highlighted in this section. These are based on the ideologies to assess the impact of RE measures to track progress, assessing material use and enhancing material efficiency. In the strategy at hand, the focus of two of the three components will be on the construction & demolition sector. 

  • Impact Assessment of RE measures

Resource efficiency is usually measured with so-called material flow indicators at the country level. Material flow indicators are analytical tools that measure total material use or relevant components of material use of a country. The methodological and conceptual framework is laid out in the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA). This tool is applicable to almost every material resource except water, because of its big scale of use. Gaseous substances are also taken into consideration only by a few countries. 

Material flow indicators are also crucial parameters and can be distinguished as:

Extraction of raw materials + Imports = Domestic material input (DMI) – Exports = Domestic material consumption (DMC)

Resource efficiency at a country level is measured by relating the material flow indicators mentioned above to the gross values added. In general, it is defined as:

Resource efficiency = GDP / Material flow indicator.

  • Assessing material use in selected sectors

The automotive and construction sectors were selected for analysis due to their overall importance to the economy, quantum of resource consumption, and high rate of growth.  The Indian construction sector has seen major growth in construction, demolition, renovation, and restoration activities and projects since 2008. Over the previous century, the industry has experienced an annual development level of 14.4%. This growth in the sectoral activities increased particularly due to India hosting major sporting events like the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011. India’s construction and demolition sector currently employs 13 million people which is about 1% of India’s total population. Contributing nearly 7% to India’s GDP directly and indirectly.

  • Enhance material efficiency in selected sectors

In order to encourage resource efficiency in the building industry by using secondary raw materials, India’s policy and industry decision-makers should be advised about numerous accessible alternatives and resource efficiency systems to generate a full ecosystem.

Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy

Circular Economy has achieved prominence in the latest years as a policy objective for viable growth and the idea is strongly related to resource effectiveness. Circular Economy’s idea relies primarily on the reuse of waste into fresh products and utilizes it instead of losing such future funds. Therefore, experts and activists are able to assess and understand how materials and resources should be handled in the future. The measures toward achieving a circular economy are a significant component of resource efficiency; however, resource efficiency includes a wider variety of policies throughout the entire product life cycle:

Mining/Extraction à Design à Manufacturing/Production à Use/Consumption à Disposal/Recovery

Resource Efficiency

Recycling saves energy and decreases the need for main raw products (virgin resources). Other economic advantages can also be gained when products are reused to the same content, such as energy savings, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and generally a lower environmental footprint. The type of recycling that should be implemented to attain the efficient CE objectives is the one that simultaneously increases all these indices.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In order to create sustainable patterns of consumption and manufacturing, there is a worldwide commitment to resource efficiency. Resource efficiency is, therefore, the main component of Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12 clearly expresses this, aimed at ensuring sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Also, eight other SDG targets (2, 6, 7,8,9,11,14, and 15) have a resource efficiency impact.

The roots of these objectives were laid at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first time in June 1992. This summit saw the adoption of Agenda 21 by more than 178 nations, a detailed action plan to create a worldwide sustainable development partnership to enhance human life and safeguard the environment. The next major development in this context came in 2000 at the Millennium Summit in New York, which developed eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce extreme poverty by 2015 The final change in goals came in 2015 when the General Assembly started negotiating on the post-2015 development agenda. The process culminated in the implementation at the UN Sustainable Development Summit of the 2030 Agenda, with 17 SDGs at its heart in September 2015.

Sustainable Development Goals - Resource Efficiency

Sustainable Development Goals - Resource Efficiency

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

The Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 includes 17 SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 12 captures the agenda for sustainable consumption and manufacturing (SCP), with clear connections to resource efficiency. SDG Objective 12 (Sustaining viable consumption and manufacturing habits) says:

  • Every year 1.3 billion tons of food is lost.
  • The world would save US$ 120 billion annually if individuals globally switched to energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • If the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050, to provide the natural resources needed to maintain present lifestyles, the equivalent of nearly three planets could be required.
  • More than 1 billion people still have no access to fresh water.

Resource Efficiency