Not Easy to Find Resource-efficiency Indicators for Policymakers

resource-efficiency indicators workshop in BrusselsBrussels, 21 January 2016 – Resource-efficiency indicators should be meaningful for policymakers and researchers and help to measure improvements towards a smart, sustainable and inclusive development of Europe. During the final conference of the DESIRE project, held in the German North Rhine-Westphalia representative office in Brussels on 21 January, a draft roadmap for indicator implementation was presented and discussed with experts and policymakers.

Participants agreed that it is not an easy exercise to find the set of 3-7 indicators that could serve as support to policy makers. This is mainly due to the challenge of finding a good trade-off between simplicity and complexity. They also stressed the difficulty of finding good indicators depicting more abstract concepts like biodiversity or critical materials. In both cases, further investigation is ongoing.

Particular attention was given to the presentation of the resource efficiency metrics based on environmentally extended input-output (EE-IO) time series elaborated; to resource efficiency indicator prioritization and optimization; and to critical materials, biodiversity & ecosystems.

DESIRE logo resource-efficiency indicators

Policymakers prefer an indicator set with very few indicators. In interviews held before the conference some even stated that DESIRE should strive towards one central indicator. A set with only a few indicators will probably raise understanding and attractiveness, but on the other hand will mean a loss of potentially relevant information, concluded the DESIRE team. A reduction from about 100 to a few indicators (5-8) is possible without losing to much information. A statistical analysis on EXIOBASE product-sector combinations showed that the number of indicators can be reduced to eight indicators. The explained variance of the reduced indicator set was still 90% and includes environmental indicators related to global warming, toxicity, ozone formation, and water consumption. In addition, four resource indicators that are regularly used by policy makers (i.e. Fossil energy, Water, Land and Materials) were evaluated. The analysis showed that the explained variance was 60% for this resource indicator set. By adding one toxicity indicator to the resource indicator set, the explained variance increased to 80%.

Among the speakers were representatives from the European Commission’s Environment Directorate, the European Energy Agency, OECD, Eurostat and the Statistics Sweden/London Group. Adriaan Slob (TNO) moderated the panel discussion.

Arnold Tukker project leader resource-efficiency indicatorsDESIRE (DEvelopment of a System of Indicators for a Resource efficient Europe) is a EU-funded project that will develop and apply an optimal set of indicators to monitor European progress towards resource-efficiency. The project runs from September 2012 to February 2016 and is lead by Arnold Tukker (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO). For more information on DESIRE and the workshop, please visit the project website:

Arnold Tukker and his team are currently working with the World Resources Forum on a resources efficiency index of nations. For more information about the WRF resource efficiency indicators please write to Cecilia Matasci at