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The concept of eco-efficiency was first introduced by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD in the book ‘Changing Course’, published in the process of preparation for participation of the business sector in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

This concept describes a vision for the production of economically valuable goods and services while reducing the ecological impacts of production. According to the 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 (i.e. using fewer resources and creating less waste).

Eco-efficiency is a management philosophy, which 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.

According to the WBCSD the fundamental elements 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 a competitive advantage for businesses. At a macro level, eco-efficiency is seen as a way to decouple economic growth from its impacts in ecological systems.

However, many authors claim that this optimistic view regarding the role of technological win-win solutions in the pursuit for sustainable development will not represent a sufficient response to the challenge of sustainability. Issues such as rebound effects, distribution of the benefits of technological improvements, life styles, production and consumption patterns and empowerment require important changes in social and political organization and governance that go far beyond the technical fixes underlying the concept of eco-efficiency.


DeSimone, L., F. Popoff with the WBCSD, 1997. Eco-efficiency. The Business Link to Sustainable Development. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.

Schmidheiny, S., with the Business Council for Sustainable Development, 1992. Changing Course. A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.

Useful website

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Paula Antunes

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

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