Efficiency, consistency and sufficiency - three strategies for a sustainable development

sustainA development of agricultural production with a focus on sustainability is increasingly being striven for, but also demanded by public and private institutions. The CAPTIVATE[1] project focuses more on the ecological dimension of sustainability. Nevertheless, intra- and inter-generational justice represents the starting point of sustainability, which always includes ecological, economic and social issues, especially their interactions. The concept of so-called "weak" sustainability assumes that natural resources and their functions (referred to as natural capital) are largely substitutable. Artificially produced things should therefore be able to adequately replace all functions (e.g. healthy soil) for all people. In contrast, “strong” sustainability emphasizes that natural capital cannot be replaced. As a result, natural resources are the limiting factor for human development.

The success of a sustainable development of society depends on a balanced interaction of new technologies and processes, new forms of organization and new lifestyles or, to put it another way, on efficiency, consistency and sufficiency.

Efficiency strategy

Efficiency (or eco-efficiency) follows the principle “a lot with less” or “more from less”, i.e. gaining the greatest possible output with the smallest possible input. Efficiency thus pursues the goal of reducing the use of materials and energy per product or service and thus reducing the consumption of natural resources through technology and organization. In the industrialized countries, efficiency strategies based on technical improvements and innovations have so far been the priority. It's no coincidence that profitability is also used as a synonym for efficiency. The efficiency strategy and its measures are repeatedly accused of so-called domino effects or rebound effects (e.g. Herring & Roy 2007), which reduce their effect. In this way, resources saved from new efficient technologies can negate this efficiency advantage with increased use. Efforts to achieve greater efficiency can thus lead to higher output with roughly the same environmental impact, to constant output with less environmental impact, or to a combination of both. In such cases, unilateral efficiency measures prove to be unsustainable. In contrast to efficiency, the consistency strategy (see part two of this article) attempts to bring about fundamental technical and product innovations, such as green technology, nature-identical products and biological technologies (e.g. organic agriculture).

Consistency strategy

As a strategy for sustainable development, consistency describes an adjustment of production (or resource or emission emissions) and consumption based on the idea of closed material and energy cycles. The compatibility of nature and technology should lead to an end to harmful emissions. Waste and the products themselves become raw materials and remain in the cycle - production and consumption take place in consonance with nature. The aim of the strategy is not primarily to use less material, but rather to promote other types of material use that can also be maintained in large quantities - without major restrictions or losses. However, products or waste cannot be completely recycled or kept in the cycle, which means that the consistency approach is difficult to carry out without some restrictions. In addition, renewable energies and raw materials are only available to a limited extent. This often leads to conflicting goals about the need for resources - e.g. the production of food compared to energy on arable land or wind farms versus the landscape.

Sufficiency strategy

Sufficiency as the sustainability strategy is usually only mentioned (as a "last resort") where efficiency and consistency strategies fail. Acting according to sufficiency - what you really need for your well-being or "nothing too much" - accepts and recognizes social and natural (planetary) limits and this, for example, independently of supply or price and exclusive demand-supply markets. Sufficiency primarily addresses the consumer behavior of individuals. However, consumption takes place in a cultural and political environment and is significantly influenced by it. Consequently, sufficient consumption should not begin and end with individuals, which would be neither fair nor effective. The concept of sufficiency is intended to emphasize individual consumer behavior and at the same time include the possibility of political control (e.g. Müller & Huppenbauer 2016). Even in the case of sufficiency, there is a risk of rebound effects. For example, if a consumer does not use product A, his options and freedom can lead to increased consumption of product B or reduced demand for product A may reduce its price, making it more attractive to other consumers (Alcott 2008). The connection between whether a sufficient lifestyle reduces or even increases the quality of life is often discussed. It is difficult to make a general statement on this on a scientific basis.

All three strategies should always be thought through and implemented in terms of sustainability principles, such as inter- and intra-generational justice, holism and integration, global and local conditions, participation, (joint) responsibility and stakeholder involvement, as well as preventive long-term orientation. In addition, one fact should always be borne in mind – the natural resources available to society are limited and the planetary boundaries (Steffen et al. 2015) of the Earth are already severely stressed.

 

Alcott, B. (2008). The sufficiency strategy: Would rich-world frugality lower environmental impact? Ecological Economics, 64(4), 770-786.

Herring H, Roy R. (2007). Technological innovation, energy efficient design and the rebound effect. Technovation. 27(4):194-203

Müller & Huppenbauer (2016). Sufficiency, liberal societies and environmental policy in the face of planetary boundaries. GAIA 25/2 (2016): 105 –109

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., ... & Sörlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 1259855.

 

Author: Richard Petrasek

 

[1] http://www.cap-tivate.eu/en/node/2

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