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Last updated at 08:30 GMT, Wednesday, 06 February 2013

Building a better future


28 January 2013

Industries must radically cut the amount of materials they use, to combat resource shortages and climate change for a planet of nine billion people, according to a report for the Royal Society.


Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst

A construction site

A report says construction workers will need to use less cement in the future


Click to hear the report


This discussion paper says the antidote to fears about resources is what's known as material efficiency; that's making the things we want, but with less material.

The researchers say we could use half as much cement in buildings, for instance, if we designed and built them with more time and care. We don't do it now because labour's dear and materials are cheap. We could drastically reduce steel in cars, if governments deterred the trend towards bigger, more powerful vehicles.

The researchers say material efficiency is vital for tackling climate change, too. For the UK, for instance, to generate enough clean energy so materials are produced in current quantities, would need the equivalent of a four-fold increase in nuclear power or a 40-fold increase in wind power. That's barely feasible, they say, so resource efficiency is the only way ahead.

The researchers say the trick will be to make sure that good design allows people to continue getting the things they want but simply made from less. For the transition to happen fully they urge governments to shift taxation away from people and on to resources. This would be controversial but the researchers predict it will create jobs for people to manufacture goods in a more intelligent way.


Click here to hear the vocabulary



thing that prevents the unwanted effects


extremely or severely




a direction in which something is changing or developing


dealing with


four times

barely feasible

unlikely to happen




try to persuade


an issue people would disagree on