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The term 'eco-efficiency' was coined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in its 1992 publication 'Changing Course'. It is based on the concept of creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution.

The WBCSD is a coalition of 150 companies worldwide that are united by a commitment to the principles of economic growth and sustainable development. Members are drawn from 30 countries and from 20 major industrial sectors, and include Nestlé, Royal Philips Electronics, AT&T, Kodak, 3M, Sony and Toyota.

Through the WBCSD, member companies exchange their experiences in implementing eco-efficiency and share their ideas with the business community worldwide.

The 1992 Earth Summit endorsed eco-efficiency as a means for companies to implement Agenda 21 in the private sector, and the term has become synonymous with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability.

According to the WBCSD definition, eco-efficiency is achieved through the delivery of ' ...competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life while progressively reducing environmental impacts of goods and resource intensity throughout the entire life-cycle to a level at least in line with the Earth's estimated carrying capacity'.

This concept describes a vision for the production of economically valuable goods and services while reducing the ecological impacts of production. In other words eco-efficiency means producing more with less.

According to the WBCSD, critical aspects of eco-efficiency are:

  • A reduction in the material intensity of goods or services;
  • A reduction in the energy intensity of goods or services;
  • Reduced dispersion of toxic materials;
  • Improved recyclability;
  • Maximum use of renewable resources;
  • Greater durability of products;
  • Increased service intensity of goods and services.

The reduction in ecological impacts translates into an increase in resource productivity, which in turn can create competitive advantage.

Recently, the WBCSD has taken steps to extend its work on eco-efficiency to specific sectors. Currently there are special projects within the cement, electric utilities, forestry, mining and mobility sectors. In 2001, 11 companies from six countries embarked on a project addressing sustainability issues in the electric utilities sector.

In addition to the sectoral work, there are also several WBCSD projects on policy development and best practice, such as the European Eco-Efficiency Initiative.

Eco-efficiency is part of a broader concept called 'sustainable production and consumption' (SPC). This concept involves changes in production and consumption patterns that lead to sustainable use of natural resources. Businesses play a key role, both as consumers of raw materials and as producers of goods and services.

A project is under way in Canada to develop a set of indicators for eco-efficiency. The project, conceived by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, began by developing a set of core indicators for energy, water and material 'intensity'. In 2000, it was extended to 12 Canadian companies from a range of manufacturing sectors. The project has since been expanded again, to cover 60 to 80 Canadian companies.

According to David McGuinty, president of NRTEE, the results 'demonstrate that eco-efficiency indicators can contribute in practical ways to improving the overall sustainability of key corporate sectors'.

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