The Factor Four concept visualizes a quadruple increase in resource efficiency using existing methodologies whilst avoiding negative impacts on the overall quality of life. The concept aims for society to last twice as long or enjoy twice as much whilst using half the resources and placing half the pressure on the environment.
B. Main Features
Factor Four moves away from labour productivity and towards resource productivity and sustainability. By using best available technology, advanced engineering and improved production methods, fewer resources are required to produce more products and services. As a result, the life span of resources is stretched and future generations provided for. In other words, four times as much wealth can be extracted from the resources we currently use.
Factor four is used in decision making; production; and product-oriented environmental protection. Fundamentally, Factor Four is an economic idea. Reducing resource use by a factor of four is not a fixed target. Rather technologies and processes should aim to increase resource efficiency.
C. Organizational Proponent
Ernst von Weizsäcker, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins first put forward the Factor Four concept in 1997 in their book Factor Four: Doubling Wealth - Halving Resource Use (Earthscan Publications Ltd., London, 1997 ).
D. Case Studies and Examples
1. Recycling Carpets
Most used carpets in Europe are sent to landfills or waste incineration plants. However, several European companies collect, sort and identify used carpets according to fibre type. The carpet or carpet components are then reused or recycled into underlays, insulation, cement clinker, synthetic vehicle components, fuel pellets, new carpets, etc.
The benefits of automated carpet sorting and recycling/reuse include:
- Less energy - recycling carpets consumes less energy than manufacturing new carpets.
- Less virgin materials - new products made from recycled carpets require less virgin material (by a factor of 4).
- Materials diverted from landfill - saving land use for landfills by a factor of 4.
- Environmental protection - recycling halves the greenhouse effect, acidification, nutrification and toxicity of carpeting and reduces the ozone-emitting-potential by 80%.
- Financial savings - automation makes the sorting and identification process economically feasible.
- New jobs are created.
- Market advantage - recycling and the recyclablity of carpets gives manufactures a completive advantage.
2. Dirt Repellent Surfaces using Nature as a Model
Many plants have leaves with a rough surface that naturally repel water. As water runs off the leaves in little beads, it also washes away dirt. Technological advancements allow scientists to replicate this water-repellent effect in materials such as house paint; tiles; glass panes; plastic sheets; and roof tiles. The result: materials that naturally repel dirt and are therefore self-cleaning or require minimal effort to clean.
The benefits of this process include:
- Less water and cleaning products utilised.
- Surfaces are more durable and scratch resistant, thereby requiring less repair work, maintenance, replacement, etc.
- Surfaces stay dryer longer, thereby preventing algae.
- Surfaces last longer and age better.
- Surfaces are more aesthetically pleasing and take much less time to clean.
- When used on vehicle windshields, visibility is improved.
E. Target Sectors / Stakeholders
The main stakeholders of Factor Four are industry, research institutions, governments and consumers. Developed nations are targeted more than developing nations.
F. Scale of Operation
Factor Four is applicable world-wide, however, it is best implemented at a business level.