Resource Efficiency

Ta panta rhei (everything flows) is not only a quotation accredited to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus but a fundamental view on modern economies with their manifold transformations of materials, energy and natural resources into products along globalized trade patterns, and the basic concept on life-cyle and material flow analysis used today.

In 1972, Meadows et al. published Limits to Growth, a report to the Club of Rome which stimulated debates on future resource use, and introduced scenario logics to the wider public: what would be the consequences if future economic and population growth takes a certain path? And are there physical limits to growth?
In the 21st century, the efficiency of resource use is a key issue related to the green growth concept, but still stands unrelated to the modern discussion on planetary boundaries.

Given global dynamics of population growth, rising economic outputs and material “wealth”, both abiotic and biotic resource flows will remain high or increase further in the decades ahead if moderate assumptions on technological progress and recycling are made. This means that the future dynamics of resource flows under business-as-usual logics give reason to severe concern. Massive increases of resource efficiency would be needed to slow or reverse these trends. Those options are technically feasible and their potential for higher resource efficiency are significant.

Still, sustainable resource use must consider not only supply-side options, but also consumption: Given the close relation between income and consumption, between life styles and definitions of “wealth”, there may well be other limits to growth and other solutions than biophysical ones.

Beyond the scope of energy and material flows, there is a whole realm of social and societal reality to be considered, with its own crises, but also its own opportunities. In that regard, IINAS works on concepts beyond current understanding of industrial ecology to adequately reflect the societal metabolism, and the human domain of sustainability which includes the freedom to re-define, re-invent and re-volutionize the psychological, cultural and social base of societies.