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Environmental Management and Sustainable Development

Resources efficiency - waste management, energy, transport - technology and information - graduate opportunities in sustainable development sectors

Organizations can profit significantly from efficient resources and efficient waste management, and from improved environmental management practices. This free article explains the basics of resources efficiency and how to manage resources more efficiently. The article discusses Life Cycle Analysis and how this can be used as a starting point for organizations seeking to improve the efficiency of their waste and resources management. Three topics form the main focus: solid waste, energy and transport. The human factor is also considered, such as workforce participation in energy saving schemes and employees' travel to work. This is not an exhaustive guide to organizational resources efficiency - it's an introduction: to inform, and to provoke ideas and discussion. While the article is written from a UK perspective, its principles apply globally. The chief content of this free article is provided by Studentforce, a UK charity uniquely focused on helping young people develop their employability through assisting the environmental sustainability of communities and employers. This contribution of this material gratefully acknowledged and details of how to pursue graduate opportunities in the environmental and sustainable development sectors are at the end of this article.

See also the section on Climate Change, Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements .

sustainable development and resources efficiency overview

Resource efficiency is an aspect of Sustainable Development, which in the UK has become embodied in Government legislation over recent years, especially after the publication of "A strategy for sustainable development for the UK" in 1999. Many other countries have similar government led programmes.

"Sustainable Development is a dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth's life support systems" Forum for the Future, 2000.

Views as to the viability of the Sustainable Development concept range between unrealistic and unfeasible perfectly possible and moreover absolutely necessary.

Meadows et al (1972) "... showed that it could not be possible to grow and conserve resources, consequent upon the principles of thermodynamics..."

Whereas, Von Weizsacker et al (1998) states that "... Factor 4 in a nutshell means that resource productivity can - and should - grow fourfold. The amount of wealth extracted from 1 unit of natural resource can quadruple. Thus we can live twice as well - yet use half as much...."

Few believe this to be achievable even though it is possible. The issue is that the success of Factor 4 requires regulated markets, long term planning, paced investment and opportunistic ventures that lock both firms and consumers into a fixed embrace. It thereby reduces choice but the technology of resource efficiency is increasing at a rapid rate with the development of the microchip, together with regulations such as the Direction on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

resources efficiency - definition

Resource efficiency at its most basic means using resources such as water, energy and even your workforce more efficiently. Getting the most out of what you have. This can be beneficial in many ways such as reducing the amount of material used and/or manufacturing costs, reducing waste materials and compliance to environmental legislation. It also reduces your impact on the environment.

"Getting rid of rubbish costs British Business nearly 5% of their annual turnover. Most could save 20% of their energy bills through low cost-no cost energy saving measures" (Lewes District Council)

resources efficiency - process

Firstly it is important to understand the starting position of your company in terms of inputs and outputs before analysing your impact on the environment. This is usually done using a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) Or The Abridged Life Cycle Analysis.

life cycle analysis

The resources efficiency Life Cycle Analysis in the UK was developed as part of ISO14001 (ISO is the International Standards Organization, which is the European version of BSI - British Standards Institute). Subsequent updates are ISO 14040 (1997) - Lifecycle assessment-principals and frameworks; and ISO 14041 (1998) - Goal and scope definition.

A resources efficiency Life Cycle Analysis aims to assess advantages and disadvantages, enabling decisions to be made on the basis of facts, specifically: the environmental and cost impact of a product over its entire life cycle, including extraction, processing, manufacture of product, distribution, use or re-use or recycling or disposal. This can be quite a complex exercise.

Some analysis suggests that per use, more energy is used in the production and disposal of paper, than the electrical energy required for the hand dryer's operation. Interesting comparisons like this generally only surface from proper Life Cycle Analysis - it's a good example of how this sort of analysis can bring clarity and quantifiable facts to policy decision-making.

If it is not feasible to calculate reliable values, nor to compare incompatible units of measurement within a full-blown Life Cycle Analysis, the approach can be simplified by using notional or estimated values, in the form of an Abridged Life Cycle Analysis, as shown below. Many large organizations opt for this method.

abridged life cycle analysis

The template below enables a comparison of the value or extent of each effect. The Abridged Life Cycle Analysis can be as detailed or as simple as you like, for example a score of 0 would be no effect whereas a score of 10 would be a substantial effect, or if known actual costs or values can be inserted. This is a simple way to look at use of resources and their impact, which prompts ideas as to where improvements and reductions to impact on the environment can be made.

effect pre-production production distribution use disposal totals
air pollution
water pollution
soil pollution
solid waste
contamination of natural resources
energy consumption
consumption of natural resources
effects on ecosystems

solid waste management

recycling and recovery

Complexities and issues to examine include materials, waste and defunct products. Useful aspects to explore are:

The ease of mechanical disassembly at the end of the products life, so materials can be reused

Increasing material standardisation - especially relevant where the need for recyclability is increasing, for example the automotive industry, which needs to achieve a recycling/re-use of 85% by 2005, hence standardisation of plastics for dashboard construction, instead of various composites.

Choose materials that easily separable and are not mutually contaminating, ie., if heated the materials don't melt into each other; and improved separation techniques of composite parts, eg., the ability to remove paint from plastics before recycling.


Glass milk bottles are a good example of re-usable materials; they can be collected, cleaned and re-filled time after time. The type of use remains the same, and so the bottles are kept within their own usage cycle. Obviously there are issues with using detergents to clean the bottles and transporting them to and from people's homes but in terms of energy the overall solution has a relatively low impact on the environment, not least being a reduced need for raw materials.

A similar example is the use of plastic crates rather than disposable wood or cardboard, for example in the transport and display of fruit and vegetables. Once empty the crates are returned to the supplier (when returning from a delivery) and re-used without the issues of disposal and manufacture of replacements. Plastic crates may cost more to produce initially than disposable alternatives, but in the long term save costs of disposal, transport, recycling, raw materials and energy.

There are four major barriers to recycling and re-use: cost, contamination, available markets, and the generally lower grade of recycled product quality. These implications must be addressed realistically, not idealistically. For example, the construction industry is unable to use recycled/reclaimed steel in buildings, because it fails to meet strength specifications. Recycled plastic is not approved for direct contact with food products, which is clearly an insurmountable barrier.


There is an ever-increasing demand for electricity. Black-outs in recent times, in various parts of the world, are proof if any were needed. Britain is predicted to be a net importer of energy by the end of the decade; some researchers suggest as much as three-quarters being imported by 2020.

Future Energy Solutions works with the British Government to promote awareness among organizations of the need to educate staff about energy conservation. The 'people factor' is significant: by educating the workforce about energy efficiency organizations can reduce their energy bills by 5-10%.

Simple low-cost or no-cost measures such as posters and stickers to remind people to turn lights off are highly effective and encourage employees to be more energy efficient.

The appointment of an 'Energy Champion' at company locations or among work-groups - a person to promote energy efficiency principles to staff, and who monitors and reports back to a central coordinator has also been proven to reduce energy consumption (supermarket chain Safeway is a pioneer of this idea).

Heating buildings can account for as much as 17% of total organizational energy costs. Simple measures can be taken to reduce these, such as draught-proofing doors and windows and insulating pipes to radiators. Buildings with high ceilings cost more to heat, so putting in a false ceiling reduces energy consumption. As with other measures a cost to benefit assessment needs to be calculated.

The amount of energy used in raw materials extraction, processing and manufacturing are factors to consider, as is the correlation between extraction and resource efficiency. For example, aluminium extraction and production is expensive - amazingly c.1% of total US energy consumption is used in aluminium production - but it is relatively resource efficient compared to less expensively produced alternatives, for example, cars constructed with aluminium bodies weigh less, giving improved fuel-efficiency, and less prone to corrosion, giving extended lifetime.

These examples demonstrate that Life Cycle Analysis addresses issues of resources efficiency more fully than typical costing assessments, and so helps to identify true total costs and environmental implications when comparing options and policies.

Be mindful of wider energy trends, such as government targets and policy at national level. The UK aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010, which will have significant impact. In the long term, companies will face pressures to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to consider renewable energy sources such as bio-fuels or solar power. A greater mix of energy sources and alternative energies is developing, which will lead to more energy choice and methods of energy delivery.


For many companies the price of transporting goods and materials accounts for a large part of their total overheads. So does the provision of car parking spaces for staff. Transport offers wide-ranging and considerable opportunity for resource efficiency improvements, especially those involving people.

Organizations often find it helpful to work with external advisors (such as Transport2000 in the UK) to share and apply best practice in the area of transport. Transport issues span all sectors, so significant commonality and opportunity to share ideas exists in this area.

travel to work

Here are examples of corporate staff travel efficiency initiatives from the UK:

AstraZeneca worked in partnership with Cheshire County Council to achieve improvements in bus services near its Macclesfield site. When they started working together in 1997 there was just one bus to the site during peak periods (i.e. the start and end of the working day); now there are fourteen, and up to 7% of staff now take the bus rather than drive. For those who have to travel by car, there is car sharing matching scheme: sharers are guaranteed a lift home (even if prior arrangements fall through) and the best parking spaces. Approximately a quarter of staff are registered on the scheme and one fifth actively participate. AstraZeneca calculated that in 2001 there had been a 9% reduction in the proportion of staff driving to work, greatly alleviating pressure to expand the car parks.

The Boots company, on the outskirts of Nottingham, has the longest running staff travel scheme in the country. Their site provides well-lit walkways, pedestrian crossings and cycle way. There is also an off road cycle track that runs from the city centre to the main entrance. There are thirteen areas for cycle parking plus changing and showering facilities for commuting cyclists. Staff buses run to 15 locations including bus and rail stations and are used by up to a quarter of all staff. They also operate a car-sharing scheme similar to AstraZeneca on which 12% of staff are registered. Boots estimate that it has saved £160,000 per annum in car park maintenance costs and there has been a 5% reduction in the proportion of staff driving to work.

These schemes have benefited the companies financially and reduced the pressure on car parks and need for expansion. The transport schemes also benefit the wider community and give direct environmental benefits by reducing the number of vehicles on the road at peak times.


A brief UK case study:

Securicor Omega Express wanted to be able to provide a next day parcel delivery service to their customers and have achieved this by using the railways. By road the journey from Walsall to Aberdeen takes 13 hours whereas by rail it takes 7 hours and there is no need for expensive infrastructure. The loading and unloading areas are very simple with lorries driving up to the train and a small loading platform being laid between the two. Securicor state that this service now runs at full capacity and has removed 22,000 lorry movements a year off the roads, with all the environmental and cost benefits that brings.


Oil is not a renewable energy source, so whether reserves last for 60 years or 600 years, it makes sense to conserve it.

Biodiesel is a tested proven alternative to fossil diesel. It is produced from animal or vegetable oil either used or recovered. In the USA soya-bean oil is used; in the UK typically rapeseed oil is used. Biodiesel (100% - B100) is compatible with any currently manufactured motor vehicle after minor adjustment to the engine. Manufacture warranty should also be checked. According to the DETR (the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions), biodiesel's energy output per litre is only 7.5% less than that of fossil diesel.

The main advantages of biodiesel are:

It can be locally produced at a small scale reducing transport costs; crop residues can be burnt at a local electricity generating plant providing an all year round income; and the energy can be distributed using existing facilities.

There are virtually zero sulphur oxides emitted, less nitrous oxide but nitrous dioxide increases by 5%, less carbon monoxide and no carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Biodiesel is biodegradable; 98% in 21 days compared to fossil oil 50%.

Biodiesel brief case studies:

Little Rock Air Force Base in the USA altered all its non-tactical vehicles to use B20 (20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel). It estimates it will use 7,00 gallons a month of locally produced biodiesel. Others have followed:

Harvard University uses it in all its diesel vehicles and Neil Young used it in on his recent tour of the US!

In the UK a 20p tax concession made by the Chancellor in July 2002 does not make this a cheap fuel but as oil runs out and the price goes up it might pay to be ahead of the game.

" Biodiesel has been fully evaluated tested and approved and is currently available throughout the USA and Europe. All French petro-diesel contains 5% biodiesel as an oxygenator and lubricating additive. It is non-carcinogenic and biodegradable, reducing tail-pipe emissions of carbon monoxide, smoke and other noxious substances. Because plants absorb carbon dioxide whilst growing, carbon dioxide emissions are also substantially reduced" (Allied biodiesel Industries UK, 2003)

achieving resources efficiency

A common inertia that prevents progress towards resources efficiency is the time and effort in completing a Life Cycle Analysis. Thereafter researching alternatives and possibilities require some effort, as do carrying out the improvements. Many smaller companies - and large ones too - do not have or cannot justify the human resources and investment to undertake the work, or cannot afford to buy in experts/specialists to do it for them.

Organizations that want to improve performance in the areas of resources efficiency, environmental management and sustainable development, but find themselves constrained by budgets and resources, should strive to find other solutions. Doing nothing is only storing up problems for the future.

Various sources of funding are available for environmental and energy or resources efficiency initiatives. Various advisory bodies, partners, and institutions are also available to help, for example Studentforce, who have contributed this article, whose details appear below.

studentforce - graduates opportunities in sustainable development

Studentforce for Sustainability, an educational charity based in Ketton, Lincolnshire, is a UK national charity focused on helping young people develop their employability through assisting the environmental sustainability of communities and employers, and as such (at time of writing this update, Feb 2006) is a unique charitable organisation in Europe in performing this function.

Studentforce's Graduate Resource Team recruits and places graduates in project work with UK local authorities, businesses and voluntary organisations. Studentforce offer contracted Project Work of between two and twelve months for recent graduates (graduated within the past three years) who are committed to working within the environmental and sustainable development sector. Project Work provides a wide range of opportunities: to work with local authorities, businesses and community & voluntary organisations; and to undertake a variety of sustainable development projects, from resource management, community development and biodiversity.

Recent graduates can register with the Graduate Resource Team by completing an application form online at and by sending a copy of your CV to Studentforce.

If you are interested in finding out more about graduate opportunities in the sustainable development sector, or for more information about Sustainable Development, Resources Efficiency, and Environmental Management, visit the Studentforce website . Studentforce for Sustainability is based at: Brewery House, Ketton, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 3TA, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1780 722072.

Principle reference sources:

Elsevier Press

Mineral resources and their management, 1985, John Blunden, Longman, Hong Kong

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