Resource Efficiency for Engineers

This morning I gave a presentation on “Resource Efficiency policy for Europe” as part of a ‘sandpit’ on “Engineering Solutions for Resource Efficiency” organised by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Research Council (EPSRC).

The EPSRC  is working to generate innovative ideas for research on resource efficiency, and they issued a call for people interested in getting funding to participate in a 1 week ‘sandpit’ to generate research ideas. The ‘sandpit’ is happening this week – starting with opening up the discussions through external speakers (including myself), and then developing specific proposals by the end of the week, with initial decisions made on funding.

From my brief experience it looks like a good process, encouraging new thinking & innovation – hopefully there will be some good ideas by the end of the week!

My presentation focussed on the work we are doing to standardise resource use measurement at EU level (focussing on land footprint, carbon footprint, water footprint & overall material use) & then encourage policies that reduce resource use (like phasing out residual waste, not setting biofuels targets etc). It generated an interesting discussion, particularly on land footprint, which emphasised the way in which this indicator in particular starts people thinking in more depth about the crucial land issue & its complexities.

My talk also highlighted a few key questions for engineers who are proposing new ideas:

  • Is what you are proposing solving a problem, or just displacing it?
  • Is your approach part of a long term vision of a sustainable society?
  • Is it just an intermediate ‘solution’? If so, how will it be phased out?
  • Are you being realistic about how your approach will be used?
  • Is the solution new technology or better systems? (e.g. separate collection vs separation plants for recycling)
  • Does your approach help in creating greater equity, as well as resource efficiency?
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