Eco-Efficiency Creating More Value with Less Impact

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creating more value with less impact

In 1991, we in the then Business Council for Sustainable Development were looking for a single concept, perhaps a single word, to sum up the business end of sustainable development. Finding no such concept on the lexicographer s shelf, we decided we would have to launch an expression. After a contest and much agonizing, we came up with eco-efficiency. In simplest terms, it means creating more goods and services with ever less use of resources, waste and pollution. After only a decade, eco-efficiency is everywhere. I just now did a web search on one search engine, which offered me 6,149 more web sites about eco-efficiency. Today, universities teach it; consulting companies charge you to tell you how to do it; organizations like UNEP and the OECD hold conferences about it. This shows that the world very much needs the concept of eco-efficiency. And I am pleased that it is an open, expanding, evolving concept. Also, it is right and satisfactory that much of the opening up of the concept has been at the hands of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). This report, in an admirably few pages (in other words extremely eco-efficiently) wraps up a decade of Council work on the topic. It shows how what began as a concept has become a sharp tool for better business performance. It is the eco-efficiency metrics approach – putting numbers on the concept – that makes it useful to business. In a year-long pilot test of eco-efficiency indicators in 23 companies, it has passed the acid test of business practicality. Now eco-efficiency needs more government attention. The concept is so obvious you would think every company in the world would seize it and milk it. Use less of the things you must buy – like resources – and produce less of the things you may get fined or sued for – like pollution – and you must make more money! Correct? Not always. Not when those resources are perversely subsidized or that pollution goes unpunished. Thus governments need to encourage companies towards eco-efficiency – largely by making it even more profitable. Those of us who have developed the concept and developed and tested its metrics and found it profitable now have a great opportunity to push governments to clamp down harder on waste and pollution and to cut harmful subsidies. This will make any sloppy competitors we may have less competitive. The concept of win-win may be trite, but it still feels good when it happens to you.

Stephan Schmidheiny Chairman, Anova AG Vice-chairman, WBCSD

August 2000

With this publication, the WBCSD is releasing a new state-of-the-art declaration on eco-efficiency. It summarizes the evolution of the concept and presents ecoefficiency s achievements, both inside and outside business. Together with our recently released report, Measuring Eco-efficiency, this paper supersedes earlier WBCSD literature on eco-efficiency. Already, the member companies of the WBCSD are applying the eco-efficiency concept in their business and many of the national BCSDs are running eco-efficiency programs for their constituencies. We hope this report will help spread and promote the eco-efficiency brand even more widely. People from many different countries and business sectors have contributed to the ideas you will find in these pages. Continuous discussions, the sharing of learning, and the reporting of case histories all help to advance our understanding on ecoefficiency. Two WBCSD programs – Eco-efficiency Metrics & Reporting and the European Eco-efficiency Initiative (EEEI) – have been especially influential in shaping our thinking over the last few years. The EEEI is a program which the WBCSD conducts jointly with European Partners for the Environment (EPE) in Brussels. EEEI became possible through financial support offered by Directorate General Enterprise of the European Commission and also...
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