Resource efficiency – the best of both worlds?

resource efficiency

Meet the researchers exploring a unique opportunity to align industrial and climate change policy through resource efficiency.

Green economy

A booming industrial sector and a big push to meet CO2 emissions targets may at first glance seem to be contradictory goals. But new research from the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP) shows that we can have the best of both worlds with a booming economy that actively contributes to reducing our national carbon footprint.

The Centre looks across the whole UK industry chain to see where energy is expended in the materials, transportation, construction, use, disposal and replacement of everything from buildings and cars to toasters and kettles. They calculate the carbon cost of a range of product groups and look at ways where different materials, design or practices could reduce overall energy demand and deliver emissions reductions.


Understanding emissions

Resource efficiency’ is gaining traction with government departments. Closely aligned with the ‘circular economy’, it offers deeper insight into cracking the puzzle of how to have a thriving industrial economy while at the same time addressing crucial environmental concerns.

CIEMAP researchers led by Dr Kate Scott have modelled what effect their ‘resource consumption strategies’ – coupled with existing government climate policies – would have on the chances of meeting targets laid out in the 4th and 5th carbon budgets. (Read the full policy brief here). According to government projections, meeting these carbon budgets requires further policies than exist today. The research compared known and planned government policies with ‘quick win’ and ‘best practice’ resource consumption strategies. (‘best practice (BP)’ measures require ambitious changes in infrastructure, business practices and behaviours whereas ‘quick wins (QW)’ could be enacted more easily in the existing conditions.) The scenarios have been quite conservative and of course the more effort put in the higher the carbon reward.

The results are significant. The team found that QW resource consumption strategies could save 62 Megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 emissions in the period from 2013 and 2032 in addition to the 371Mt predicted to be saved via existing and planned policies. BP resource consumption strategy could save a further 100Mt in the UK in the same period.


Product analysis

The team analysed data across six product groups (food and drink; construction; vehicles; appliances packaging; clothing and textiles) to give a picture of where savings could be made across the whole of UK industry. The list was not exhaustive but gives an indication of the emissions potential from case study evidence on resource consumption in the UK. Further potential exists and needs to be explored. Some examples of the strategies include:

  • reducing the amount of clothing and textiles going to landfill by reusing existing materials, buying second-hand and reducing energy use in production of new clothes and rugs, carpets etc.
  • reducing the weight of packaging through better design which could have further savings in energy used to transport and store materials and products.
  • increase the lifetime of household electronics and appliances and encouraging reuse rather than landfilling or recycling of these products.

More details of a full range of suggested measures available in a policy brief published on the CIEMAP website.

Resource consumption strategies

The development and implementation of these resource consumption strategies would require innovation, new markets and therefore jobs and growth while at the same time actively reducing carbon emissions.

The Department of Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are showing significant interest in the research as an opportunity to align the UK’s industrial and climate change strategies in a win-win situation.


More on CIEMAP

Read the full policy brief