Doing more with less

How to manage infinite growth on a finite planet. One of the greatest challenges facing humanity today is to maintain the healthy growth necessary to lift the world’s one billion people out of absolute poverty and manage the natural resources required for the well-being of nine billion people by 2050 – all while keeping environmental impacts within acceptable limits and sustaining life’s natural support system.

Two major Green schools of thought:
a. ‘green growth sceptics’ include those advocating for ‘degrowth’, ‘prosperity without growth’, ‘steady state economics’, ‘doughnut economics’ and ‘wellbeing economics’.
b. ‘green growth’ advocates who believe that the historical relationship between GDP and environmental impact can be effectively severed, through ‘decoupling’ — reducing the environmental impact associated with each pound or dollar of GDP.

How? Improving the rate of resource productivity (doing more with less) faster than the economic growth rate is the notion behind decoupling, to the extent of actually using less resources. By deploying new technologies, and shifting the nature of our consumption, they argue we can do our bit for the environment while continuing to grow GDP, even in wealthy countries.

Growing in acceptance of way forward – The urgency for decoupling escalating resource use AND environmental degradation FROM economic growth is now widely acknowledged by policy-makers, industry leaders and civil society. Indeed, it has become a key issue in the on- going deliberations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

EG – Many decoupling technologies allow economic output to be achieved with fewer resource inputs, reducing waste and saving costs that can further expand the economy or reduce its exposure to resource risks.

However there is tittle movement – why? Needs policies to remove barriers to decoupling and intentionally promote a transition towards greater resource productivity.

Need policy proposals eg One proposal uses taxation or subsidy reduction to move resource prices upwards in line with documented increases of energy or resource productivity.

Developing countries may have a relative advantage in decoupling, because they are not so strongly locked-in by resource-intensive consumption patterns, production systems, infrastructure and institutions as in the developed world.

The FUTURE – There is growing evidence that decoupling will be one of the next big opportunities for innovation, wise use of resources, and thus for continued economic development. Policymakers along with corporate leaders with vision and an understanding of political realities can take significant steps to benefit from future resource trends and decoupling opportunities.

IMPLEMENTATION Improving the rate of resource productivity (doing more with less) faster than the economic growth rate is the notion behind decoupling, to the extent of actually using less resources.
That goal, however, demands an urgent rethink of the links between resource use and economic prosperity, buttressed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation, to at least stabilise and ultimately reduce per capita consumption in wealthy countries and help developing nations follow a more sustainable path.


  • Worldwide use of natural resources has accelerated causing severe environmental damage and depletion of natural resources. Annual material extraction grew by a factor of eight through the twentieth century.
  • The use of resources, such as freshwater, land and soil has transgressed sustainable levels.
  • Population growth and the increase in incomes continue to rise. More than 3 billion people are expected to enjoy “middle class” income levels in the next twenty years, compared to 1.8 billion today.
  • The volatility of food prices, for example, increased to 22.4 per cent in 2000-2012 compared to 7.7 per cent in the previous decade.
  • Placing the world’s environmental resources – such as water, biomass, fish stocks and ecosystems – under too much stress can lead to sudden, non-linear collapse. Over- mining has led to a decline in average ore grades for several key metals, such as copper, gold and tin. As a result, three times as much resources and materials needs to be moved for the same quantity of metal extraction as a century ago.

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