Factor X pp 149-175 | Cite as

Changing the Priorities: From Labour Productivity to the Efficiency in the Use of Resources

  • Aldo FemiaEmail author
Part of the Eco-Efficiency in Industry and Science book series (ECOE, volume 29)


This article argues in favour of including a drastic increase of natural resources use efficiency (RE) among the primary goals of society, with a higher priority level than that of increasing labour productivity (LP). This need is connected to that for a change of the way we look at natural resources (NR) use as well as at its final results. This change of perspective has impact on the very definition of RE. Indeed, RE should not be identified with resource productivity (RP), as RP expresses nothing more than the efficiency with which NR are used in production, regardless to the well-being implications of how production takes place, and of which “needs” does it satisfy. RE is thought in this article as of a more general ability to generate socially desirable results from NR use. The narrow-minded identification of the desirable effects of NR use with production’s economic value – represented by GDP in the numerator of RP – implies an inherently un-solvable trade-off between saving what remains of nature and keeping high living standards. A drastic reduction of NR use is necessary for sustainability; as a consequence dematerialisation should be an overarching goal of policy. Given these premises, drastically enhancing RE is, almost by definition, the only way to reconcile well-being and dematerialisation. This does a-priori not imply a decrease nor an increase of GDP, but requires radical structural changes of the way society is organised to respond to individual and social needs. An ecologically rational policy would strive to transform LP increases into non-working time, rather than into more production. This is one key element of the many far-reaching changes that are necessary in all aspects of the socioeconomic framework to drastically enhance RE. Well-being should be pursued, and not just defined and measured, beyond GDP, by active economic and non-economic policies, encouraging the emergence of new social, institutional and organisational arrangements that enable people to live less resource intensive – but possibly happier – lives. This requires that the domain where rational social choice rules, as opposed to competition and finance, be substantially expanded.


Gross Domestic Product Labour Productivity Resource Productivity Gross Domestic Product Growth Valuable Outcome 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istat, National AccountingEnvironmental and Satellite Accounts System, Economy-wide Material Flow AccountsRomeItaly

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