An ecological economics of eco-efficiency : theory, interpretations and applications : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ecological Economics at Massey University, Palmerston North

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Massey University
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Eco-efficiency emerged onto the world stage as the business input into the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The concept has served to bring the business community into the sustainability debate and enabled businesses to demonstrate significant environmental improvement. The concept is also beginning to play a key role in national sustainable development policy. However, the recent interest in eco-efficiency has highlighted several unresolved and sometimes contentious issues which are addressed in this thesis. The overall aim of this thesis is to contribute to the understanding of the eco-efficiency concept and its analytical application by situating the research within an ecological economic framework. This thesis begins by arguing that conventional 'eco-industrial épistémé' interpretations of eco-efficiency are developed within the narrow confines of a world view that is committed to business-as-usual. This assumes controllability of production processes, sees technology as a fix for environmental problems and assumes independence of economic and environmental production processes. This thesis then proposes to broaden the notion of eco-efficiency by applying an ecological economic theoretical framework. This thesis recommends a nested-hierarchy framework of three tiers for interpreting eco-efficiency. The thesis uses ecological economic theory to argue that eco-efficiency must be embedded within physical scale (first tier) and social considerations (second tier). The third (eco-efficiency) tier is interdisciplinary and pluralistic. It encourages a view that perspectives of eco-efficiency are context dependent. It also promotes tolerance and acceptance that all perspectives of eco-efficiency provide important insights into eco-efficiency. Previously, little attention has been devoted to measuring and analysing eco-efficiency for national policy purposes. This thesis develops and applies three promising analytical techniques to aspects of New Zealand's eco-efficiency; Divisia decomposition analysis (for isolating structural and technical components of change), inverse-Leontief based multiplier analysis (for measuring indirect effects) and principal components analysis (for reducing the number of indicators to a manageable level). All three empirical chapters identify the road transport sector as having relatively low and decreasing energy and CO2 efficiencies. This is of concern as the sector has proven to be one of the most difficult to influence from an environmental perspective. Several other sectors warrant attention by virtue of their low eco-efficiency measures; 'other mining', 'other farming', dairy farming, meat products and dairy products. Urgent attention is required to improve the environmental behaviour of these sectors.
Environmental economics, Economic development, Environmental aspects, Econometrics, New Zealand, Eco-efficiency, Ecological economics