Eco-efficiency learning module

Eco-efficiency is a management philosophy that encourages business to search for environmental improvements that yield parallel economic benefits. The eco-efficiency module is designed to capture interest, to inform and to engage on issues surrounding eco-efficiency at different levels within an organization.

Inside the eco-efficiency module

The eco-efficiency module is a compilation of learning materials and exercises, from which the user may pick-and-choose, to raise awareness and foster implementation at different levels within their organization. There is a choice of activities, all of which are flexible enough to suit a wide range of audiences, to be delivered by people from a variety of functions and to be customized to the needs and concerns of a particular organization.

The module contains a background briefing paper designed to give a comprehensive overview of eco-efficiency and a resources section with case studies, quotes and references. In addition there are three learning units - understanding, exploring and implementing – with a combination of conceptual and practical tools and methods.

The understanding unit introduces the concept of eco-efficiency through a range of basic exercises around definitions, drivers and trends. In the exploring section, participants can understand eco-efficiency and seek to deepen their skills and knowledge through dilemmas and case exercises, applying different approaches and solutions. Implementing will teach participants how to take stock of current performance and to integrate eco-efficient decisions into an organization.

About eco-efficiency

Eco-efficiency is a management philosophy that encourages business to search for environmental improvements that yield parallel economic benefits. It focuses on business opportunities and allows companies to become more environmentally responsible and more profitable. It is a key business contribution to sustainable societies.

What is eco-efficiency?

As defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), "eco-efficiency is achieved by the delivery of competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life, while progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity throughout the life-cycle to a level at least in line with the Earth’s estimated carrying capacity." In short, it is concerned with creating more value with less impact.

  • Interface, one of the world’s largest producers of commercial floor covering, saved over $200 million from 1996 to 2002 through its sustainability efforts.
  • HP in California reduced its waste by 95% and saved $870,564 in 1998.
  • STMicroelectronics, a Swiss-based technology manufacturer, saved £38 million in energy and $8 million in water costs, with a total saving over a decade predicted at $900 million.
  • Dupont reduced energy use by one-third at one facility saving over $17 million per year on power while reducing greenhouse gas pollution per pound of product by half. In 2000, it saved almost $400 million due to resource and productivity improvement.
  • In five years, SC Johnson increased production by 50% while waste emissions were cut by half, resulting in annual cost savings of more than $125 million.
  • United Technologies Corporation’s sites eliminated almost 40,000 gallons per year of waste water and saved over US$50,000 per year with a fundamental change in the way it manages its test cells, underground storage tanks and waste streams.

Eco-efficiency in practice

There have been great advances in the application of eco-efficiency principles to the real world. Industry, for example, has had considerable success in reducing pollution and emissions, and eliminating hazardous materials from production processes. In the past, business viewed the environment and sustainable development as problems and risk factors.

Today, they are also seen as opportunities – sources of efficiency improvement and growth. Eco-efficiency is very much a part of this picture. Basically, it is about doing more with less: delivering more value while using fewer resources. If you save energy, for example, you cut your costs while also reducing unwelcome outputs such as emissions.

Eco-efficiency is not limited simply to making incremental efficiency improvements in existing practices and habits. It should stimulate creativity and innovation in the search for new ways of doing things. Nor is eco-efficiency limited to areas within a company’s boundaries, such as in manufacturing and plant management. It is also valid for activities upstream and downstream of a manufacturer’s plant and involves the supply and product value chains. Consequently, it can be a great challenge to development engineers, purchasers, product portfolio managers, marketing specialists and even finance and control.

Companies can use eco-efficiency as an integral cultural element in their policy or mission statements. They can also set eco-efficiency objectives for their environmental or integrated management systems. And it is a useful tool for monitoring and reporting performance, and for helping the firm’s communication and dialogue with its stakeholders.

"This is what eco-efficiency is all about: combining the goals of business excellence and environmental excellence, and creating the link through which corporate behavior can support sustainable development."
Bjorn Stigson, President WBCSD

Eco-efficiency opportunities can emerge at any point in the entire life-cycle of a product. This means employees need to understand what eco-efficiency is, the value it can bring to a company and how to make it happen. This in turn requires building skills and understanding in order to integrate eco-efficiency across business operations, sectors, countries and issues, and allowing space for innovation and creativity.

A panacea?

The concept has moved from preventing pollution in manufacturing industries to becoming a driver for innovation and competitiveness. Companies implement eco-efficiency to optimize their processes, turn their wastes into resources for other industries, and drive innovation that leads to products with new functionalities.

Eco-efficiency is a practical approach but not a panacea. And it will never work as an add-on to a business – it has to be an integral part of a strategy. Such a strategy will have a strong focus on technological and social innovation, accountability and transparency, as well as on cooperation with other parts of society with a view to achieving the set objectives.

Eco-efficiency can help companies develop and successfully implement a business strategy toward sustainability only if it’s in the hearts and minds of employees. Demonstrating the value of an eco-efficient approach will help employees recognize why it is important for the company to implement and motivate towards action.

Eco-efficiency has been demonstrated, through hundreds of case examples, to work for companies of all sizes, in all industrial sectors and in all regions. It is critical to draw on the range of tools, strategies and examples that already exist within the leaders in this field.

Eco-efficiency also requires a range of skills and capabilities from understanding definitions and dilemmas, analyzing stakeholder perspectives to undertaking a life-cycle assessment, integrating thinking across business operations, cooperating and negotiating with external partners, and measuring and evaluating impact.

Eco-efficiency is, in fact, work in progress and will continue to be so because it is in essence a dynamic rather than a static process. The purpose of the module is therefore to help companies advocate and educate the eco-efficiency story so far:

  • the business drivers and value of adopting eco-efficiency
  • the key strategies and tools for implementing eco-efficiency
  • how to integrate eco-efficiency into business decision-making processes.

Eco-efficiency is not sufficient by itself because it integrates only two of sustainability’s three elements, economics and ecology, while leaving the third, social progress, outside its embrace. By advocating and educating eco-efficiency, employees can better understand the impacts of the company and its relationship with society. This will enable business to look beyond eco-efficiency in order to earn its license to operate, innovate and grow.




Eco-efficiency learning module 12.57MB
Unit A 1.85MB
Unit B - Exercise 1.2MB
Unit B - Intro 1.06MB
Unit C 430KB
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