In a rapidly growing number of policy documents and processes on the national, European and international level, a more sustainable management and use of natural resources is defined as a core principle for an environmentally sustainable development. De-coupling economic growth from the use of natural resources and environmental degradation is regarded as the core strategy to achieve sustainable levels of resource use. Raising the material productivity of production and consumption activities aims at producing the same or even more products with less resource material inputs and less waste. Reducing the use of natural resources also follows the goal of preventing pollution and waste production at its source.
With the historic adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015 in New York, the international community committed itself to 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world into a better place for current and future generations. The database and related indicators can support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals global indicator framework, particularly by helping to measure SDG targets 8.4 (resource efficiency in consumption and production), 12.2 (sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources), and 12.5 (waste reduction).
In 2015, the European Commission adopted a so-called Circular Economy Strategy to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy which shall boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete and ambitious programme of action, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.
In March 2010, the European Commission adopted the “Flagship Initiative for a Resource-Efficient Europe” as part of the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The initiative was designed to guide European policy making in the area of resource use towards the year 2020 with the overall long-term objective to transform the Europe into a highly resource efficiency and low carbon economy. The main objective is to de-couple economic growth from amounts of natural resource use and their negative environmental impacts.
The “Roadmap for a Resource efficient Europe” builds on the Flagship Initiative and other initiatives under the flagship, in particular the policy achievements towards a low carbon economy, and takes into account progress made on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and the EU's strategy on sustainable development. The Roadmap defines key areas of action for European policy, including changes of consumption patterns, fostering efficient production and turning waste into resources.
Material flow-based indicators play a key role in the indicator system developed for the implementation of the Roadmap. The indicator GDP over Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) is currently used as the single headline indicator for the Roadmap. It is being discussed, whether DMC should be replaced by the Raw Material Consumption (RMC) indicator in the medium term.
In 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Green Economy Initiative. UNEP defines green economy as an economy which “results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” The objective of the Green Economy initiative is to motivate policymakers to support increased investments in environmentally significant sectors such as renewable energy, clean technologies, energy-efficient buildings, public transport, waste management and recycling, and sustainable management of land, water, forests, fisheries and eco-tourism.
Resource efficiency indicators, including material productivity, are being considered as core indicators to measure progress towards achieving the green economy, see UNEP’s indicator report.
Against the background of unsustainable business-as-usual scenarios on future global development, the OECD developed the “Green Growth” strategy, which implies fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services as the basis for human well-being.
In its monitoring system for evaluating progress towards green growth, the “Green Growth Indicators”, one pillar contains indicators on the environmental and resource productivity of the economy. Several material flow-based indicators can be found in the OECD list, including non-energy domestic material productivity and waste generation intensity.
In completion of UNEP's "green economy" initiative and UNESCAP's (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) "green growth" strategy, UNIDO is promoting a "Green Industry" initiative, a pattern of industrial development that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Its aim is to discuss the opportunities generated and challenges posed by a move towards resource efficient industries and sustainable production and consumption patterns and to develop strategies to maximise benefits and minimise drawbacks. In September 2009, 21 Asian ministers adopted the "Manila Declaration of Green Industry in Asia", a non-legally binding policy strategy document aiming to support the development of more resource efficient industries in Asia.
Proposed by Japan, the Regional 3R Forum in Asia was endorsed in 2008 as the platform to promote 3R in the Asian developing countries in corporation with the governments, international organizations and donor communities. The 3Rs refer to restricting generation (Reduce), promoting reuse (Reuse) and regeneration (Recycle) of wastes, and represent the concept of balancing environmental conservation and economic growth through the effective use of resources.