Eco-Innovation as a Driver
Sustainable Resource Use in Asia
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
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
• http://www.knowledge4 innovation.eu/eco-innovation-driver-resource-efficient-europe
Back to Contents