Creation of the Task Force

The President's Council on Sustainable Development created the Eco-Efficiency Task Force in the belief that environmental protection and economic growth can, and must be, linked. As stated in the Council's report:

The paradoxical challenge that the United States and the world face at the end of the 20th century is to generate individual economic opportunities and national wealth necessary for economical healthy societies while, at the same time, lessening the environmental risks and social inequities that have accompanied past economic development... The challenge of sustainable development is to find ways to meet those needs without destroying the resources upon, which future progress depends.[1]

The Eco-Efficiency Task Force set out to resolve this paradox and to explore the means by which the U.S. economy could realize sustainable development.

What Is Eco-Efficiency?

Eco-efficiency is broadly defined as the production, delivery, and use of competitively priced goods and services, coupled with the achievement of environmental and social goals.

The Business Council for Sustainable Development, in its 1992 publication, Changing Course, introduced the term "eco-efficiency" to describe corporations producing economically valuable goods while continuously reducing the ecological impact associated with the production of those goods.[2] Before the term existed, these corporations had already begun to realize the advantages of eco-efficiency. Some of these business advantages are:

  • An eco-efficient production system uses less material, water, and energy inputs, and thus reduces the cost of manufacturing.

  • An eco-efficient product is durable, repairable, and reusable, and therefore more attractive to consumers.

  • An eco-efficient business takes account of its environmental responsibilities when designing technologies, processes and products. In doing so, it finds opportunities for efficiency gains and other overhead savings.

The challenge facing the Task Force was to reveal further the factors that motivate conversion to eco-efficiency and, ultimately, to recommend a set of policies that would foster the establishment of eco-efficiency as the standard practice for businesses, individuals, and governments in the United States.

From the outset, the Task Force envisioned an eco-efficient society, in which ecological and economic values are married, producing cleaner, safer workplaces, healthy, vibrant communities, and greater economic opportunity for all Americans. In an eco-efficient society, market forces would be harnessed to protect the environment. Supply and demand would be influenced by better information about environmental impacts and by a heightened sense of responsibility among all. Price signals would incorporate eco-efficient values. The more energy and materials used to make a product and deliver it to the consumer, and the more waste generated in its manufacture and use, the higher would be the product's price tag. This is not always the case under the present system.

The Task Force also envisioned an eco-efficient regulatory system that would maximize environmental protection while enhancing economic competitiveness. Eco-efficient regulation would rely more on pollution reduction at the source rather than on costly controls. Eco-efficient regulation would foster trust and co-operation by inviting public participation and by recruiting industry partnerships in the discovery of cost-effective environmental solutions.

In short, the Task Force viewed eco-efficiency as both the end and the means. Eco-efficiency could produce a high quality environment and a robust and competitive economy; at the same time ensuring continuing improvement to both.

Scope of Work: "Cradle-to-Cradle"

The President's Council on Sustainable Development directed its Eco-Efficiency Task Force to study manufacturing in the United States to determine how economic growth and environmental protection might be aligned in a domestic policy agenda.

The Task Force interpreted this charge to include the full range of manufacturing-related activities in the chain of commerce--not just the actual production step. So, initially, the Task Force looked at manufacturing from the time raw materials are extracted to the time consumers finish with an end-product.

The Task Force soon realized that even this view was not broad enough. It is an improvement to consider the whole process of product manufacturing, from "design-to-disposal" rather than simply to look at isolated steps in that process; but it is still not fully eco-efficient thinking.

Borrowing from our understanding of natural systems, in which waste from one process becomes fodder for the next, the Task Force began using the phrase, "from cradle-to-cradle," to describe eco-efficient manufacturing. "Cradle-to-cradle" suggests that manufacturing be treated not as a linear activity, but as circular. In eco-efficient manufacturing the waste from one process should provide feedstock for the next production activity. The products of eco-efficient manufacturing, once used, should be able to be disassembled or reassembled to become useful again. Eco-efficient manufacturing is a closed loop, sustainable system.

In crafting its workplan, therefore, the Task Force took a whole systems approach to the manufacturing sector. It looked at material flows to find opportunities to affect supply chain dynamics that influence raw material extraction and the use of recycled materials and products. It looked at product storage, shipping, distribution, and use, to see how these are affected by demand and other consumer behaviors.

Trends in business competition and strategy, environmental security, and federal-state-local government relations were also taken into account by the Task Force in setting its workplan.

Task Force Workplan and Methods

At the core of the Task Force workplan was a series of "cleaner, cheaper" demonstration projects, modeled in part on the 1993 Amoco/EPA Yorktown Project.[3] The members identified possible projects that could highlight eco-efficiency opportunities both in entire commercial systems and in a variety of industries. The Task Force recognized the growing contribution of small businesses. For this reason, the workplan included studies of nine, small business dominated industries as well as a new wave of hybrid industrial areas called eco-industrial parks, and studies of traditional large manufacturers.

The workplan also called for an infusion of ideas from a wide range of stakeholders, academics, and analysts in four policy clusters: Information, Economics, Regulatory, and Money and Management.

The Eco-Efficiency Task Force recognized that the process used to establish goals and formulate its recommendations was as important as those end-products themselves. Consequently, the Task Force designed an open deliberative process with multiple stakeholders. Outcomes were to be based on consensus. Though not always the easiest or quickest methods for completing a job, inclusion and consensus engendered creativity and a spirit of trust among the participants.

This report is a summation of the work of the Eco-Efficiency Task Force. The goals, policies, and measures of progress put forward in the report can help to shift the US. economy to one which more effectively yields environmental security, and economic vitality and social equity.

Chapter 1 discusses the goals that guided all the Task Force work. Chapter 2 contains recommendations for specific action that can be undertaken by government, the private sector, environmental groups, and individual citizens. The work of the demonstration projects and policy clusters are summarized in Chapters 3 and 4, respectively. The report concludes with a roster of Task Force membership and acknowledgment of all those who assisted in formulation of this report.

[1] The President's Council on Sustainable Development, Sustainable America: A New Consensus (Washington, D.C., 1996), p. 6.

[2] The Business Council for Sustainable Development, Changing Course (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992), p. 10.

[3] In late 1989, EPA and Amoco Corporation began a voluntary, joint project to study pollution prevention opportunities at an Amoco refinery in Yorktown, Virginia. The study team, which included the Commonwealth of Virginia, explored technical, legislative, regulatory, institutional, and economic factors which impede or encourage pollution prevention. The team learned that better environmental results could be achieved more cost-effectively at the facility if less prescriptive regulatory approaches were used, if information collection was improved, and if additional public-private partnerships could be encouraged.

Chapter 1: Goals for An Eco-Efficient Economy | Table of Contents