Winners and Losers in Global Competition: Why Eco-Efficiency Reinforces Competitiveness - A Study of 44 Nations

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Purdue University Press
Professional & Scholarly


Our dominant culture continues to celebrate blind economic expansion despite its heavy toll on people and nature all over the globe. In fact, our national income accounts (such as the GDP) and our policies ignore that much of today's economic income stems from liquidating our social and natural assets. While living on the planet's capital, rather than on the interest (or sustainable harvest) of its renewable assets, we operate as if we could transgress ecological limits forever. Rather than acknowledging this ecological reality, we actively resist recognizing biophysical limits and use wealth to temporarily shield ourselves from the fallout of ecological over-shoot. This study addresses the core question of sustainability and shows why nations will also secure their future competitiveness if they improve their ecological performance. Taken together, all the countries studied consume approximately one-third more ecological services than their available ecological capacity can provide, suggesting that the global economy as a whole is poorly positioned for future competition. Still we find that the European countries, Japan , and Canada (this last because of its large ecological remainder) are in distinctly more favorable starting positions for future competitiveness than all the other countries. They are better at using fewer resources to produce commodities, and, in the case of the countries with ecological remainders, they take better care of their existing ecological capacities. Perhaps the most significant-cant finding is that 16 of the 20 eco-efficiency leaders (about 80 percent) are competitive, compared to only 11 of the 24 eco-efficiency laggards (about 45 percent). This suggests either that eco-efficiency already offers a competitive edge or that competitiveness and high eco-efficiency are not mutually exclusive.