Eco-Innovation as a Driver for
Sustainable Resource Use in Asia

Less is more, Start with the end in mind, Think – Eat - Save, Stop the drop, When in doubt - don’t throw it out, Don’t trash our future are some of the striking slogans of natural resource management that imply using less materials, energy, water and land for economic activities.
Everything that we use today in our day to day life - food, clothes, vehicles, furniture, paper, gold including infrastructure like electricity, roads, bridges and buildings are obtained from extracting precious natural resources from the earth. The concern about the use of resources for meeting daily needs has risen steeply due to the fact that these resources are finite in nature. Evidence of unsustainable resource use can be found everywhere:

• Global aquifers are being pumped 3.5 times faster than rainfall can naturally recharge them.

• Topsoil is being lost 10-40 times faster than it is formed.

• Oceans are being overfished.

• 18 million acres of forests are destroyed each year.

Environmental impacts directly related to resource use have caused global warming, deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Feeding a population of 7 billion will become increasingly difficult if we continue to use our resources at the same rate. At this rate, we would need an equivalent of 1.6 planet earths to provide for the resources we use and to absorb our waste.

Global Trends and Scenarios for Resource Extraction and Consumption

Worldwide extraction of biotic and abiotic material, domestic material consumption and trade has reached a level that threatens the sustainable functioning of the earth’s ecosystem. Today, the total global consumption of renewable and non-renewable natural resources amounts to more than 60 billion tonnes per year. The above figure shows the global resource extraction by the world in 2013.

Asia has the highest absolute extraction numbers of all continents with a total of almost 52 billion tonnes. Today, almost two thirds of all globally extracted raw materials originate from the Asian continent. Asia's share in global material extraction has increased remarkably since the early 2000s, as a result of rapid industrialisation of emerging countries such as China and India. Since the region is in the midst of an industrial transformation, the speed and scale of natural resource use and waste generated is projected to grow at an unprecedented pace in the coming decades. This combined with an increase in population growth and aspiration for higher standards of living will lead to rapid depletion of natural resources influenced by unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

‘The OECD Environmental Outlook’ projected that by 2050, the world economy is expected to quadruple and the global population to increase from 7 billion today to over 9.2 billion and this will place an additional strain on the earth’s material and energy resources and the environment. A growing population with higher per capita income will require more food, more industrial products, more water and energy. What is worrisome is that the traditional resource-intensive growth trajectory puts economic, environmental and social sustainability of the world at risk.

The need of the hour is a revolution that calls for production of things in a way that it provides food, water, housing, mobility and energy with only about 20% of the per capita resource use and emissions found in the current system. In order to make this happen, consumers in developed countries and everywhere need to take the lead in moving towards sustainable patterns of consumption and at the industry level, production systems also need to shift towards sustainable patterns of resource use, with reduced environmental pollution and waste.

Natural resource management refers to “strategies intended to sustain both renewable and non-renewable resources for present and future use”.

Technology and Innovation for Efficient Use of Resources

Scarcity of resources, rising material and energy prices and global warming has led to the quest for resource efficient solutions or 'eco-innovations'. Although at present, the uptake of resource efficient technologies is still slow which is due to short to medium-term financial costs as well as lack of awareness, investing in resource efficiency in the long run can result in primary energy and resource savings along the whole supply chain.

In the building sector, replacing soil by fly ash (a by-product of thermal power plants) is one of the potential solutions for decoupling with co-benefits. Substituting burnt clay bricks with fly ash bricks will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the pressure on the soil resource that helps in meeting food security.

In the agrochemical industry, the adequate, safe and efficient use of plant protection products contributes to a sustainable increase of agricultural productivity, by preventing up to 50 to 70% of crop losses from pests and diseases. Such eco efficient processes are crucial in the context of an increasing food demand, water land resources scarcity and threatened biodiversity.

Measuring Resource Use

Information on natural resource use is very critical at times when the demand for resources is growing quickly and the supply system in place is showing difficulties in coping up with the rising demand. Material flow accounts take stock of all relevant natural resource inputs from domestic or international sources covering biomass, fossil fuels, metals, industry and construction materials as well as waste and emission outputs. For example, the energy flow accounting takes into account all relevant aspects of conversion of energy from primary source of energy to final use in economic activity. Water use statistics details the water supply from different sources such as surface water, ground water and the water used in major economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and domestic household consumption.

Intergovernmental organisations such as OECD and Eurostat have invested in developing guidelines for material flow accounting and there is substantial information available on measuring material flows and resource productivity along with information on policy interpretation and use. The table above shows the ‘Resource Criticality Index’ developed by Development Alternatives along with other Indian and international partners where the critical resources in the construction and automobile sector have been assessed on the basis of their scarcity, cost, environmental impact, embodied energy, supply risk, lack of recyclability and conflict of use.

Assessing the conventional flow of these materials across economic sectors will help us to understand the scale and pattern of use and identify points in the flow where interventions could be applied. It is important to understand that information on resource levels available will play an important role in development of policies and policy evaluation in regard to sustainable natural resource management.

Future Outlook

The Asia Pacific region is likely to continue the current pace of economic growth and the business as usual scenario forecasts a significant growth in resource extraction and consumption. Hence, a well-informed policy focused on increased resource efficiency can deliver multiple benefits would be very relevant for the future sustainability of Asia and the world at large. In the case of the developed nations, it is recommended that an absolute reduction in resource use be done and for the developing countries a relative decoupling of economic growth from resource use with a shift to absolute reduction after a certain period of time.


• GIZ and DA, 2015. Resource Efficiency in the Indian Construction Sector: Market Evaluation of the Use of Secondary Raw Materials from Construction and Demolition Waste

• UNEP, Resource Efficiency: Economics and Outlook for the Asia and Pacific

• Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI),2009. Resource efficiency for sustainable growth: Global trends and European policy scenarios

• OECD, Key findings: Material resources, productivity and the environment

• UNEP (2017) Resource Efficiency: Potential and Economic Implications. A report of the International Resource Panel

• Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI), 2000, OVERCONSUMPTION? Our use of the world’s natural resources

• /trends/analyses-1980-2013/absolute-material-extraction-by-world-region-in-2013/

• http://www.knowledge4

Krishna Chandran

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