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Eco-efficiency begins with the assumption of a one-way, linear flow of materials through industrial systems: raw materials are extracted from the environment, transformed into products, and eventually disposed of. In this system, eco- efficient techniques seek only to minimise the volume, velocity, and toxicity of the material flow system, but are incapable of altering its linear progression. Some materials are recycled, but often as an end-of-pipe solution, since these materials are not designed to be recycled. Instead of true recycling, this process is actually downcycling, a downgrade in material quality, which limits usability and maintains the linear, cradle-to-grave dynamic of the material flow system.
In contrast to this approach of minimisation and dematerialisation, the concept of eco-effectiveness proposes the transformation of products and their associated material flows such that they form a supportive relationship with ecological systems and future economic growth. The goal is not to minimise the cradle-to-grave flow of materials, but to generate cyclical, cradle-to-cradle ‘metabolisms’ that enable materials to maintain their status as resources and accumulate intelligence over time (upcycling). This inherently generates a synergistic relationship between ecological and economic systems, a positive recoupling of the relationship between economy and ecology.
Image: Goerner, Sally, & Voller, Randolph. (2013). Rebuilding Economic Vitality ─ R.E.V.©the World: How energy laws and keen observations of what does and does not work in human networks are uniting in a common vision of how to build lasting economic vitality. In (Webster, Ken; J. Bleriot and C. Johnson, Eds). A New Dynamic: Effective Business in a Circular Economy. London: the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.