Eco-efficiency generates more value through technology and process changes whilst reducing resource use and environmental impact throughout the product or service's life. Eco-efficiency applies to all business aspects, from purchasing and production to marketing and distribution.
Linking environmental and economic performance, eco-efficiency is primarily a management concept. Eco-efficiency differs from sustainability in that eco-efficiency does not measure social aspects.
The WBCSD defines eco-efficiency as:
Eco-efficiency = Product or service value / Environmental influence
Implementing eco-efficiency measures gives businesses a greater understanding of their activities and impacts as eco-efficiency requires the development of organisational, financial and environmental profiles. In addition, businesses using eco-efficiency principles are more profitable and competitive as they use less virgin resources, water and energy, generate less waste and pollution, improve production methods, develop new products or services and use or recycle existing materials.
The main aspects of eco-efficiency are:
- Reduction of energy, water and virgin material use
- Reduction of waste and pollution levels
- Extension of function and therefore product/service life
- Incorporation of life cycle principles
- Consideration of the usefulness and recyclability of products/services at the end of their useful life
- Increased service intensity
Eco-efficiency measures required integration into management and environmental plans, policies and strategies. Measurement (through the use of appropriate indicators) of eco-efficiency actions is important to determine success (financial and environmental), identify and track trends, prioritise actions and issues and ascertain areas for improvement. Reporting, both internally and externally is also required to communicate progress and obstacles, build shareholder and consumer confidence and report to regulators. Reporting can be integrated into existing reporting and communication mechanisms.
The World Council for Sustainable Business Development put forward the Eco-efficiency concept in 1991.
Case studies and examples
Southwest Properties and Office Interiors Group (Canada) converted an old brewery into offices, a showroom and manufacturing facility. Eco-efficiency measures used during the conversion included the installation of energy efficiency lights, recycling of paper and wood products, and metals, purchase of energy efficient office equipment, reuse of existing materials and consideration of future uses for the building.
Upgrades, new processes and changes in corrective maintenance allowed J.S. McMillan Fisheries (Canada) to save 5,400 GJ of energy, 269.3 tonnes in greenhouse emissions within a two year payback period. The company's strategic direction also changed as result of eco-efficiency actions.
Natural fibre car components
DaimlerChrysler (South Africa) is making car components using locally produced and manufactured sisal fibers. New technology, plant design and technical advice were required to implement the program. The outcome is that 75 percent of the Mercedes Benz C Class rear shelf is composed of a sisal - cotton mixture. New uses for the fiber have been identified.
New technology, upgrades and system modifications resulted in 3M New Zealand capturing and reusing 90% of its volatile organic compound emissions, improving air and waste water emission qualities and reducing solvent purchasing costs by 80%.
Target sectors / stakeholders
The main stakeholders of eco-efficiency are businesses, business associations, industry, research organisations and government. Other stakeholders are consumers, suppliers, non-government organisations and shareholders.
Scale of operation
Applicable world-wide, eco-efficiency is best implemented at a business level.