The Eco-Innovation Challenge

The Eco-Innovation Challenge

Europe has become

the world region

shifting most of the

environmental cost of

resource use abroad.


materials from abroad (section 1.2.2). On the industry and business level, reducing material

costs and avoiding material scarcity are increasingly important aspects for economic success

(section 1.2.3).

1.2.1 | Environmental perspective: overconsumption

Human societies have always built their (economic) development on the extraction and

use of natural resources. However, since the industrial revolution and especially during the

last six decades, worldwide material use has reached unprecedented levels (see section

2.1 for details). Only in the period from 1980 to 2007, worldwide resource extraction and

resource use increased by 62%, reaching more than 60 billion tonnes of renewable and

non-renewable resources extracted and used in the year 2007 alone in the global economy

(SERI 2010).

A number of recent environmental assessments (EEA 2010a, WWF et al. 2010) illustrate

that already at today’s level of global consumption, the natural resource base our societies

are built on is in severe danger of overexploitation and – potentially – collapse. At the same

time, around 80% of the world population still lives on less than 10 US$ per day (Ravallion

et al. 2008) and legitimately demands higher consumption in the future.

The most prominent environmental problems are linked to human use of materials (including

energy carriers); most notably climate change and the degradation of global ecosystems, as

well as the ecological services they provide: fresh water reserves and forests are shrinking,

many species are under threat of extinction and fertile land is being eroded. Environmental

impacts occur across the whole life-cycle of material use: from extraction through processing

to disposal. At every stage of this cycle, energy and water are used and emissions are

released into the air, water and soil (Bringezu and Bleischwitz 2009). Extraction of large

amounts of materials also impact land cover and biodiversity (EEA 2010b).

As materials and products are increasingly traded internationally, the environmental

pressures associated with resource use are distributed across the world (see Box 1.1).

Europe has become the world region shifting most of the environmental cost of resource

use abroad. From 1960 to 2005 the growth of traded goods has increased about 3.5-fold

(in terms of weight), whereas the ecological rucksacks (or hidden flows) of those traded

goods have multiplied by a factor of nearly 4.8 (Dittrich et al. forthcoming). Reducing natural

resource use through increasing resource efficiency is therefore one of the key means to

lowering the environmental impacts associated with production and consumption, both

within Europe and abroad.

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