Materials that are used in vast quantities but that have low energy intensity in production (such as steel and cement) need to have longer in-use lifetimes, particularly given demand for steel is set to rise by 80% between 2010 and 2030 (3). Low abundance materials won at great energy and environmental cost (such as scarce metals) need to be minimised in use and retained in the material economy. For example it takes two million tonnes of solid waste, 691,000 litres of water, and 141 kilograms of cyanide to produce a single kilogram of gold (4). Even for fairly abundant materials such as aluminium, the case for recycling, reuse, or remanufacturing is strong. Avoiding extraction of virgin materials will help manage costs and availability; extraction is predicted to account for 40% of the world’s energy use by 2050 (5). Using renewable materials to replace non-renewable resources is also a productive strategy.
The need for resource efficiency in a world of rising material and energy cost and increasing supply risk will drive changes in business models. Resource extraction companies will evolve into resource management businesses and obtain materials from waste streams as well as virgin sources. In many cases the concentration of key resources is already higher in the former than the latter (such as gold in computer scrap and platinum in road sweepings). Suppliers of energy will increasingly become providers of the services that this energy enables, with a focus on efficiency.