Less in, More out: Using resource efficiency to cut carbon and benefit the economy

UK emissions are currently expected to exceed the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but new research shows that resource efficiency could give a major boost to government climate policy: Less in, More out: Using resource efficiency to cut carbon and benefit the economy.

The government is considering a net zero carbon emissions target for 2050. But UK carbon emissions are currently projected to exceed legally binding carbon budgets in the 2020s and 2030s.

Government climate policy has been reducing emissions from running vehicles and heating and powering buildings, but it has so far ignored the huge source of emissions from how products are made and used.

Addressing this could reduce emissions by substantially more than other climate policies: between now and 2032, resource efficiency could save more than seven times as many emissions as the smart meter rollout and nearly three times as many as the Renewable Heat Incentive. This would allow the country to meet the fourth carbon budget and reduce excess emissions in the fifth by nearly 80 per cent.

Research from the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIEMAP), a collaboration of four UK universities, shows that action now to put less material into the production process and get more out of the materials used could cut UK carbon emissions by 200 MtCO2e by 2032 – equivalent to more than half of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions.

The analysis shows that five industrial sectors offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency, including:

  • Construction: this sector is the biggest source of potential savings through measures like using lower carbon building materials and increasing reuse. Efficiency gains in this sector alone could halve excess emissions in the fourth carbon budget period.
  • Vehicles: Major carbon savings could come from encouraging people to keep efficient cars, especially EVs and hybrids, for a few more years; the potential lifetime of a car is 20 years but the average car in the UK is driven for just 13 years.
  • Food and drink: Avoidable food waste in the UK not only costs the average household £700 a year, it is also estimated to be responsible for 19 million tonnes of CO2 each year – equal to emissions from a quarter of the country’s private car journeys.

At the same time, becoming more efficient would make businesses more productive and lower their costs, which will be increasingly important to UK industries competing globally post-Brexit.

Germany’s Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) has a target of doubling resource productivity by 2020. The report, published in partnership with Green Alliance, recommends the government follows Germany’s example, setting up sector specific ‘resource efficiency partnerships’ to speed up the identification of opportunities and spread innovation.


Libby Peake, senior policy adviser – resources, Green Alliance (available for interview)

lpeake@green-alliance.org.uk, 020 7630 4529