title: wbcsd: more value, less ecological & social impact

factor 4 and factor 10: 'Factor 4' is a simple yet radical concept. It refers to a hypothetical fourfold increase in 'resource productivity', brought about by simultaneously doubling wealth and halving resource consumption. The concept was introduced in 1997 in a book of the same name written by L. Hunter Lovins and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Ernst von Weizsäcker, founder of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment & Energy. [Factor Four - Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use, The New Report to the Club of Rome, Earthscan Publications LTD, London 1997]

Often mentioned in the same breath as Factor 4 is 'Factor 10', whose proponents argue that in the long term, resource use in developed countries needs to be slashed tenfold if we are to approach sustainability. The reasoning behind this is that globally, consumption needs to be halved, but that the greatest reduction should be borne by those countries that are currently the most profligate in their use of resources.

eco-efficiency: the term eco-efficiency was diffused in 1992, when almost all the countries and states in the world, meeting at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), signed and accepted the Rio Declaration and thus incorporated sustainable development as a guiding principle into their national policy. In 1992 the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) defined eco-efficiency as the business strategy to implement sustainable development. In 1994 Club Factor 10 was formed, whose members aim to carry out a 10-fold reduction in all material flows. In 1997 the Factor Four book promoted the position to reduce the use of resources by at least a factor of four. In 1996 the WBCSD, together with UNEP, proposed a common definition of ‘eco-efficiency and cleaner production’.

who: the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a coalition of 170 international companies united by a shared commitment to sustainable development via the three pillars of economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. Members are drawn from more than 35 countries and 20 major industrial sectors. The organisation also benefits from a global network of 45 national and regional business councils and partner organisations located in 40 countries, involving some 1,000 business leaders globally.

Its mission is to provide business leadership as a catalyst for change toward sustainable development, and to promote the role of eco-efficiency, innovation and corporate social responsibility. Its activities consist in participating in policy development in order to create a framework that allows business to contribute effectively to sustainable development, and to share best practices among their members.

ecology + business: eco-efficiency can help companies grow more qualitatively than quantitatively by providing more service, function, and value, rather than transforming more materials into energy and waste. WBCSD has identified four aspects of eco-efficiency that make it an indispensable strategic element in today’s knowledge-based economy:
  • de-materialisation: companies are developing ways of substituting knowledge flows for material flows;

  • closing production loops: the biological designs of nature provide a role model for sustainability;

  • service extension: we are moving from a supply-driven economy to a demand-driven economy;

  • functional extension: companies are manufacturing smarter products with new and enhanced functionality and selling services to enhance the products’ functional value.
Among many eco-efficiency success stories reported on WBCSD’s website:
  • Volkswagen Lupo, Germany: “A completely new car, the Lupo was brought to market in 1999, with a fuel consumption of less than 3 litres per 100 kilometres. It was designed for eco-efficiency and embodies many technical innovations. Indeed, VW says that its performance is optimised throughout its entire life-cycle".

  • Carvajal, Colombia: “For decades, the graphic arts industry has used diverse solvents and cleaning agents. (…) For several years, Carvajal has worked successfully on substituting these traditional solvents with others that are equally effective but less dangerous and environmentally harmful. Today, the company has practically eliminated toxic solvents from its printing processes. At the same time, it has cut back significantly on spending on cleaning agents".
measuring eco-efficiency: WBCSD has worked in recent years to make eco-efficiency more user-friendly for business. Since only that which is measured actually gets done, WBCSD has explored a framework for measuring eco-efficiency and has compiled, for the first time, a specific practical guideline for companies on how to implement eco-efficiency in practice by presenting a tool for measuring eco-efficiency and reporting performance. The results of this work were published in the report Measuring Eco-Efficiency in June 2000. Although the framework provides a common set of definitions, principles, and indicators, it is flexible enough to be widely used and interpreted to fit the needs of individual companies across the business spectrum.