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trends ■ The amount of raw materials needed to sustain the economies of developed countries is significantly greater than present indicators suggest, a new study has revealed. Using a new modelling tool and more comprehensive indicators, researchers have mapped the flow of raw materials across the world economy with unprecedented accuracy to determine the true “material

footprint” of 186 countries over a two-decade period (from 1990 to 2008). The study, involving researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the University of Sydney, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, was published in the US journal, Proceedings of the National

Academy of Sciences. It reveals that the decoupling of natural resources from economic growth has been exaggerated. The results confirm that pressures on raw materials do not necessarily decline as affluence grows and demonstrates the need for policymakers to consider new accounting methods that more accurately track resource consumption.

China’s factory owners look for energy savings Factory bosses in China are looking at ways to cut costs through greater energy efficiency. A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek reports that for decades after China started trading with the United States in 1979, most factory managers didn’t focus on electricity prices. During those years, demand from abroad was expanding, labour was cheap and the exchange rate favored China’s exporters. But in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, conditions have changed. Kevin Chang, general manager of Concord Ceramics, based in Dongguan in Guangdong province, told Businessweek that his labour costs have doubled and the exchange rate is less favourable. He sees increasing energy efficiency as one way to shore up the bottom line. The work at Concord Ceramics requires constant air conditioning and, in the summer, electricity accounts for as much as 15% of operating

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costs. Chang installed a highvolume air-conditioning system to cut expenses, but once the system was up and running, his electricity bill went up. He brought in an engineer from the China Academy of Building Research, a government think-tank, who deduced that the cooling system was more powerful than the factory needed. The air conditioning was constantly cycled between maximum cooling and powering down, therefore wasting energy. The solution was to run just half of the unit. The air remains at a steady temperature and Chang says he will save about 40% on electricity bills. Another company, Shenzhen Black-Cloud Packaging, which makes packaging material for clients, including Apple, installed four giant ceiling fans imported from the US. Right: Workers at the Seagate Technology International (Wuxi) factory.

Photo: Robert Scoble

BUSINESS MATTERS

“Humanity is using raw materials at a level never seen before, with farreaching environmental impacts on biodiversity, land use, climate and water,” says lead author Tommy Wiedmann, Associate Professor of Sustainability Research at the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “By relying on current indicators, governments are not able to see the true extent of resource consumption.” “Now more than ever, developed countries are relying on international trade to acquire their natural resources, but our research shows this dependence far exceeds

Making It: Industry for Development (#14)  

Over recent decades, middle-income countries (MICs) have made a significant contribution to global development through their higher growth r...

Making It: Industry for Development (#14)  

Over recent decades, middle-income countries (MICs) have made a significant contribution to global development through their higher growth r...