When we talk about resource efficiency it means using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner, whilst minimising impacts on the environment. The resources we rely on are finite, meaning they will eventually run out, and can only be replenished at a certain rate. If we exceed this rate the resource becomes depleted. Resource efficiency is a way to deliver more with less.
The EU Commission defines resources to encompass all natural resources that are inputs to our economy, including both physical resources and eco-system services. They use the following main categories of resources: metals, minerals, fuels, fish, timber, water, soil, clean air, biomass, biodiversity and land and sea.
Good for the environment
Why do we need to be more resource efficient? With 7 billion people (and rising) on the planet the demand on the world’s natural resources is significant. Take water for example, the UN are predicting that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity.
Similarly, we are also running out of energy. Global oil reserves are predicted to only last another 45 years if global production remains at the same rate as today.
In 2006, WWF said if everyone in the world lived as we do in the UK, we would require 3 planets to sustain our lifestyles. We need to do more with less, as our planet cannot sustain ever-increasing levels of resource consumption.
Good for business
As well as being good for the environment, resource efficiency is also good for business.
Wasted resources not only cost money (i.e. reduced profits), but also represent lost time, effort, work and missed opportunities. Defra has predicted that UK businesses could save £6.4 billion per year by improving the way they use resources, as well as helping to create and protect jobs.
By using resources such as water, energy and raw materials more efficiently, money can be saved quickly and simply.
Waste costs money and in some cases up to 4% of a company’s turnover. By finding ways to reduce waste your business could become more profitable. All organisations should aim to be as resource efficient as possible by preventing waste from the outset, but sometimes this isn’t possible. Re-using, recycling or recovering other value, such as energy, are other options to consider. Only after these have been considered should waste be disposed of.
Disposing of waste rather than the other options has the greatest impact on the environment and is the least cost-effective management solution. In order to make savings why not spend some time carrying out a systematic review of your organisation’s waste production? Preventing waste in the first place will help cut costs and allow the business to become more competitive.
Most businesses are on a water meter, this means the more you use the more you pay. Coupled with the rising concern of climate change affecting water abstraction, being more efficient with water can also help to cut costs and reduce your impact on the environment.
Firstly, check your water bills. The effluent and sewerage charge will be based on 95% return to sewer so find out if all your water does actually go down the drain and none is evaporated or is used making products. Similarly, check the standing charge is correct and based on the size of your meter and inlet pipe.
Fixing dripping taps, sorting potential leaks, and fitting water saving devices to toilets are all easy ways to reduce water use. A useful exercise is checking the water meter before and after a weekend or holiday shutdown – if water is being used then this needs investigating.
These are all simple and easy ways to be more resource efficient with water. If your company consumes a lot of water, through a manufacturing process for example, it’ll be worth making further and more detailed investigations into reducing water use.
Another resource that can be used more efficiently is energy – electricity, gas, diesel, etc. Depending on the type of company, particular areas to focus on could be reducing energy used for lighting, heating and air-conditioning, electrical equipment and refrigeration.
By promoting a ‘switch-off’ culture amongst employees for lighting and equipment, efficiency can be increased by up to 15%. Look into more energy efficient lighting such as LEDs, ensure buildings are well insulated, prevent leaks and draughts and service the boiler regularly. Monitoring energy use will enable you to target specific use and wastage, as well as allow you to set reduction targets.
Good resource efficiency practices are based around a system of continual improvement, with the aim of saving money and reducing environmental impact. Hopefully you’re ready to identify and develop opportunities within your business to become more resource efficient – the environment will thank you for it!