Factor Five

The development of this book has been made possible through sponsorship from Griffith University, Aachen Foundation, CSIRO, and RPS Group.

Factor Five now released in Chinese and German!

Factor Five to be release in Russian!

Factor Five a top seller in ‘Engineering Productivity‘!

Ranked 12th in the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership ‘Top 40 books of 2010‘.

This book is a welcome update to Factor Four, showing that a sustainable future is not only possible, but also economically feasible. The idea of long term, predictable energy price increases deserves serious consideration by policy makers.”

RRP: Hardback £24.99 (ISBN 9781844075911) from Routledge


The 21st century will see monumental change. Either the human race will use its knowledge and skills and change the way it interacts with the environment, or the environment will change the way it interacts with its inhabitants.
In the first case, the focus of this book, we would see our sophisticated understanding in areas such as physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, planning, commerce, business and governance accumulated over the last 1,000 years brought to bear on the challenge of dramatically reducing our pressure on the environment. The second case however is the opposite scenario, involving the decline of the planet’s ecosystems until they reach thresholds where recovery is not possible, and following which we have no idea what happens. For instance, if we fail to respond to Sir Nicolas Stern’s call to meet appropriate stabilisation trajectories for greenhouse gas emissions, and we allow the average temperature of our planets surface to increase by 4-6 degrees Celsius, we will see staggering changes to our environment, including rapidly rising sea level, withering crops, diminishing water reserves, drought, cyclones, floods… allowing this to happen will be the failure of our species, and those that survive will have a deadly legacy.

In this update to the 1997 International Best Seller, Factor Four, Ernst von Weizsäcker again leads a team to present a compelling case for sector wide advances that can deliver significant resource productivity improvements over the coming century. The purpose of this book is to inspire hope and to then inform meaningful action in the coming decades to respond to the greatest challenge our species has ever faced – that of living in harmony with our planet and its other inhabitants.

Introduction by Ernst von Weizsäcker

Interview with Ernst von Weizsäcker by Beijing News

Article by Ernst von Weizsäcker on ‘Factor Five’ (Making It Magazine)

Article by Charlie Hargroves and Cheryl Desha (ECOS Magazine)

Download Sample PowerPoint Slides on Sector Studies

Article about Factor 5 by Environment Times

Article about Factor 5’s building industry sector study by Build.uk.co



Preliminaries, Acknowledgments and Endorsement Quotes

Introduction by Ernst von Weizsäcker – ‘Factor 5: A Global Imperative
By The Natural Edge Project
Preface to the Sector Studies

Chapter 1: A Framework for Factor 5 (Download Chapter)
Chapter 2: The Buildings Sector (Download Residential Buildings Sub-Chapter)
Chapter 3: The Heavy Industry Sector – Steel and Cement (Cement Article)

Chapter 4: The Agricultural Sector
Chapter 5: The Transport Sector

Online Sector Study: Factor 5 in the Information and Communication Technologies Sector

Online Sector Study: Factor 5 in the Pulp and Paper Sector

Online Sector Study: Factor 5 in the Food and Hospitality Sector (Energy Efficiency – Dairy, Bakery, Supermarket, Restaurant, and Fast Food Outlets)

Online Case Study: Achieving Factor 5 improvements in Typical Australian Housing
By Ernst von Weizsäcker
Chapter 6: Regulation: The Visible Hand
Chapter 7: Economic Instruments for the Environment, for Efficiency and for Renewable Energies
Chapter 8: Addressing the Rebound Dilemma (Download Chapter)
Chapter 9: A Long-Term Ecological Tax Reform (Download Chapter)
Chapter 10: Balancing Public with Private Goods
Chapter 11: Sufficiency in a Civilised World

Citation: von Weizsäcker, E., Hargroves, K., Smith, M., Desha, C. and Stasinopoulos, P. (2009)Factor 5: Transforming the Global Economy through 80% Increase in Resource Productivity, Earthscan, UK and Droemer, Germany.

COP 15 and Factor Five, by Ernst von Weizacker for Shanghai Press

Climate negotiators in Copenhagen navigate in stormy waters. China has become more or less the voice of the global South and asks rich countries to come up with bold reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, so as to leave sufficient “space” to developing countries. The rich countries, notably the biggest polluters per capita, the USA and Australia, remain very hesitant. They believe reducing the burning of coal and oil will reduce their wealth. This is understandable because in the past CO2 emissions have been a reliable indicator of wealth. The Copenhagen conference, also referred to as “COP 15”, may come to a complete stalemate if this perceptions prevails.

It need not. There is scope for producing wealth at roughly one fifth of today’s typical carbon emissions. Five time more electric light can be extracted from one kilowatt-hour than is done today. Buildings can be constructed that are essentially carbon free and yet have an excellent and convenient internal air quality. In Guangzhou, the first carbon neutral skyscraper is under construction and will be completed in 2010. Cement can be made with fly ash from coal power plants, using less than one fifth of the energy needed for conventional Portland cement. The transportation system can improve fivefold in terms of energy and carbon efficiency. The same can be said for today’s wasteful agricultural production in the rich countries.

A new book has just been published in English and will be published in Chinese next year, outlining the fascinating technological revolution of a five-fold increase of energy and resource productivity. It is called “Factor Five” and is co-authored by Ernst von Weizsäcker from Germany and Charlie Hargroves and his team from Australia. It describes the technological potential of doing much more with less energy, water and minerals, in the sectors of heavy industry, buildings, agriculture and transportation. It also offers political proposals of making the said revolution happen. One of the ideas is to gently raise energy prices, in line with the average energy efficiency gains, – so that no social hardship would be expected.

If the American and European delegations at COP 15 were already aware of the Factor Five potentials, they would not find it so difficult to agree with China’s demands. And if developing countries were aware of these exciting potentials, they would pledge to avoid the costly, clumsy, and environmentally very damaging road of development the rich countries have been trotting over the past 150 years.

Building on from ‘Factor Four’

Twelve years ago, the book Factor Four brought together 50 case studies demonstrating that it was possible to profitably achieve significant improvements in resource productivity. This concept transformed how many economists, policy makers, engineers, entrepreneurs and business leaders thought about innovation, environmental protection and wealth creation.

The book was among a small number of books that were instrumental in the formation of The Natural Edge Project in 2002, as it not only assured us that significant innovation in resource productivity and hence pollution reduction was available, but it also made engineering and design exciting, even in the face of a looming global environmental catastrophe.

The book, translated into 12 languages, effectively demonstrated the value to business and government of moving on from environmental protection and pollution control, to a focus on resource productivity and pollution prevention. Specifically, the case studies in Factor Four included:
– 20 energy productivity case studies such as cars, buildings, super-windows, appliances, super-refrigerators, lighting, office equipment and computers, food with low freight miles, fans/pumps and motor systems, and air-conditioning.
– 15 materials productivity case studies such as durable products, electronic books/catalogues, reducing material flows in industry, retrofitting rather than demolishing buildings, and various options for recycling.
– 5 water productivity case studies such as subsurface drip irrigation, water efficiency in manufacturing, residential water efficiency, and reducing water usage in cotton production.
– 10 transportation case studies such as car design, railways, light-rail, bus rapid-transit systems, video-conferencing and email to avoid travel, and car sharing.
Part One of this new book, Factor Five, builds on from these insights in Factor Four, to demonstrate that after 12 years, there is now real potential to cost effectively achieve 80 per cent, or five-fold, improvements in resource productivity across most of the major sectors of the economy – that is Buildings, Industry, Agriculture and Transport (and further presents a number of supporting online Sector Studies, in the pulp and paper, information and communications, and food and hospitality sectors). This new publication is not designed to replace but to complement the original work and we recommend that readers first read Factor Four. Taken together these two books show how at least 75-80 per cent resource productivity improvements can be made throughout most sectors of the economy.

Factor Five deliberately focuses on the sectors that are responsible for most of the global energy, water and materials usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Thus Part One provides a guide for everyone – from individual householders, businesses, industry sector groups, to national governments – to inform efforts to technically achieve significant resource productivity improvements cost effectively. Part Two then outlines many years of experience by Ernst von Weizsäcker in ‘Making it Happen’, and covers topics such as the effectiveness of regulations related to the environment, the use of economic instruments, dealing with the rebound dilemma, and then presents his position on long-term ecological tax reform. The book is then concluded by Ernst commenting on the concept of ‘sufficiency’ and how this will play a role in the future of our global society.
Even though it sounds obvious, the first place to start is in asking the right questions before starting a design, rather than assuming the answers from the last time, as this can lead to significant resource productivity improvements, cost reductions, and superior performance and outcomes. This process is often undertaken as part of a facilitated scoping or design charrette that involves the design and project teams. The process often starts with raising the question of ‘what is the required service? and how else can this same service be provided with less environmental impact?’ Asking such a question typically leads to different or new design options being selected that can dramatically change the outcome of the design – i.e. reducing the environmental impacts – but still provide the same service.

As the sector studies in this book show, there are now a range of profitable options for meeting society’s needs and providing products and services that have a significantly reduced environmental impact than previous solutions. As Head of Engineering Practice for the Institution of Engineers Australia, Martin Dwyer explained when reflecting on the work in the book Whole System Design, ‘Systems thinking and asking the right questions opens up far more design options and solutions than we first think. And some of those solutions bring the breakthrough improvements that go far beyond the incremental’.
For instance, when considering the need to meet with clients and partners, a number of companies now use video conferencing to reduce the use of air travel; or when considering how to light a building, more and more designers are using natural light and advanced lamps to reduce the use of energy intensive lights; or when considering the need for cooking equipment, a number of restaurants are now installing super insulated equipment to reduce the generation of heat that air-conditioners are generally employed to overcome. On a larger scale, when considering how to provide the building industry with cement, innovative companies are now making new forms of cement, i.e. geo-polymers, to replace the energy intensive Portland cement.

Furthermore, power utilities are now investigating options to meet growing demand with energy efficiency measures in a way that provides real financial rewards to the both the utility and the customer. By asking the right questions at the start of the design process, or in the beginning stages of a retrofit design, the nature of the essential design outcomes, and hence the required energy and resource inputs, can be clarified. This will then allow the consideration of alternative ways of achieving the required outcomes, or even ways to reduce the need for it. For example, a car manufacturer may ask, what service does its product provide… essentially the answer is mobility… but it also enables the creation of significant amounts of greenhouse gas and other pollution. Hence the company can ask itself, is there another way to provide mobility and reduce the environmental pressure? As Chapter 5 will outline, this can be done through both the re-design of cars and in reducing the need to use them, i.e. by increasing the use of public transport options or by shifting freight carriage to lower impact modes – options that both require vehicles to be designed and maintained, a potential new market for foreword thinking car companies of today (ironically this is much like the steam railway engine companies that shifted into making cars in the mid 20th Century).
The basic premise of both books is that fundamentally people do not want barrels of oil or cars, kilowatt hours or coal fired power stations, electrons or incandescent light bulbs, or steel tins for aluminium cans. Rather, people are interested in the services that these products provide, such as mobility, energy, lighting, and a container from which to drink. Rather than continuing the previous mindset for the delivery of such services, a holistic approach to design opens the door to considering a new and expanding range of exciting options. Hence, if designed appropriately, the same energy, lighting, and drink container services can be provided by renewable energy, energy efficient light globes and natural light, and cans made from recycled aluminium, which can be recycled endlessly.

In each case the consumer would be unaware of the change behind the scenes as the service they require is delivered, however, the resulting reductions in energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions, and pressures on the environment could be significant. Along with such changes behind the scenes to the design of products and services consumers can of course make choices to reduce resource consumption and the associated environmental pressures. For example, ask yourself how else can you get to work other than using your car? For instance, if getting to work by train was faster, cheaper and more reliable, would you take the train? We suggest that most would say ‘yes’, but most would also say that the current form of public transport available to them was neither faster nor more reliable than taking their car. However, if the system is designed appropriately, as it is in a number of cities, public transport can provide a very competitive alternative, as well as significantly reducing the energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger.
The Sector Studies chosen for Part One of this book feature sectors of the economy that focus on fundamental human needs, namely: the need for shelter and places to work and play (design of buildings and the manufacture of steel and cement); the need for food and water (agricultural practices and operations); and mobility/trade of goods and services (transportation). At a fundamental level, these sectors provide services that humankind needs, however, many of these services can be made significantly more resource productive, reducing their resource consumption and associated environmental impacts – as well as their use being able to be reduced and substituted for lower impact options, and even eliminated through life style choices and a focus on sufficiency, as expanded in Chapter 11. Humankind has been researching, innovating and experimenting with better ways to meet all these needs for thousands of years. Yet, as each of the Sector Studies will show, it is still possible to achieve Factor 5 resource productivity improvements, starting with asking the right questions.
Each of the Sector Studies seeks to cover a number of critical questions relevant to most sectors, including the following ‘right questions’, such as:
– Is the current method of delivering the product or service the only way to do so? (Often the first thought when answering this question is ‘yes’, however, further investigation in most sectors leads to a range of alternatives – from system upgrades, such as energy efficient motors in an industrial application, to completely new processes, such as shifting to a process to predominantly use scrap metal rather than processing primary resources to make steel.)
– If it is the only way, what are the major areas of energy, water and materials usage, and a) what options are available to reduce the need for such inputs, and b) what alternatives are available to provide these inputs? (The search for such alternative options and inputs can be driven by a requirement to reduce environmental impacts, but also as part of a strategy to improve competitive advantage by reducing input costs, which are inevitably set to increase in the future as availability and impact are factored in.)
– If it is not the only way, what alternatives to the system currently used can be used to profitably deliver the product or service with less resource intensity and environmental pressure? (For instance, in Chapter 3 we show that geo-polymers can be used to create cement with at least 80 per cent less energy intensity, while eliminating the significant process emissions of greenhouse gases associated with Portland cement.)
Once the initial questions as to the best way to meet the design requirement have been answered the conceived system needs to be benchmarked against best practice in order to understand the potential for performance. For instance, if a state-of-the-art sub-surface deprivation drip irrigation system has been selected (rather than the typical flood irrigation system) the designers need to study applications of such designs in order to understand the potential of the system and to investigate the operating parameters. However, in many cases the new design concept will be part of an emerging wave of innovation as explained in the Introduction and hence their may be little precedent to provide a benchmark. Further, even if there are established examples of the new design, such processes and methodologies are unlikely to be incorporated into university or professional development courses. In this case modelling based on the theoretical performance, and calibrated by the current best practice, can be used to guide the expectations of the design. As the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in 2006, ‘The energy intensity of most industrial processes is at least 50% higher than the theoretical minimum determined by the laws of thermodynamics. Many processes have very low energy efficiency and average energy use is much higher than the best available technology would permit.
Although designing projects that are outside the realm of the well established solutions is challenging, it can offer significant rewards, especially as the requirement to reduce environmental pressures is only set to increase in the future. Leading Australian whole system designer, Adjunct Professor Alan Pears, states that, ‘I have used benchmarking and modelling as part of a whole system design approach to improve resource efficiency of products and industrial processes often by a Factor of 2 or better. An exciting consequence of applying a whole system design approach is the drastically reduced need for end-of-pipe treatment, both in the local area and potentially in the wider air, soil and waterways’. It is also important to consider ways to increase the flexibility of the design outcome to help improve the utility of the design at the end of its life. Opportunities include designing buildings so that when they are dismantled materials can be reused, designing manufactured products and transportation vehicles to maximise recyclability, and designing systems that can be used with a variety of renewable energy options. For instance, Chapter 5 shows that it is possible to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars, which then opens up new renewable energy and fuel options. General Motors’ new plug-in hybrid concept car, the Voltec, is designed so that the car can run on petrol, bio-fuels or hydrogen, ensuring that the car design can take advantage of whichever fuel mixtures dominate the market in the future.

The Team Behind Factor 5

Ernst Von Weizsacker – Dean, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, 2006-2008

Dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of Santa Barbara since January 2006. Previously served as the policy director at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology for Development, director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, and president of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy. Von Weizsacker is a member of the Club of Rome and served on the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization. Later he became a member of the Bundestag, the federal parliament of Germany, where he was appointed Chairman of the Environmental Committee. Von Weizsäcker has authored several influential books on the environment, including ‘Earth Politics’ and ‘Factor Four’. His many honours and awards include the prestigious Takeda World Environment Award and the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal, presented by World Wildlife Fund International.

Charlie Hargroves – TNEP Executive Director/Research Fellow Griffith University

Karlson ‘Charlie’ Hargroves, co-founder and TNEP Executive Director, is a graduate of Civil Engineering from the University of Adelaide in 2000. In 2004 Charlie was seconded from TNEP for a 12 month visiting scholar position at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Charlie is a co-author and the co-editor of ‘The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century’. In 2005 the book received the highly contested Banksia Award for Environmental Leadership, Training and Education. Charlie and the team from TNEP have developed a range of projects focused on education and training for sustainable development, including working with Universities, Professional Bodies, Government Agencies, Companies, Schools and touring international keynote speakers. Through the development of this and other TNEP initiatives Charlie is developing his PhD in Sustainable Industry Policy at Murdoch University under the supervision of Prof. Peter Newman.

Michael H. Smith – TNEP Research Director/Visiting Research Fellow ANU

Michael H. Smith, co-founder and TNEP Research Director, completed a double major Science degree in Chemistry and Mathematics from the University of Melbourne, in his honours year, Michael researched chemicals to replace those that destroy the ozone layer at the University of Sydney Michael is a co-author and the co-editor of ‘The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century’. In 2005 the book received the highly contested Banksia Award for Environmental Leadership, Training and Education. His recently completed PhD thesis at the Australian National University investigated the latest advances in the classic sustainability debates such as economic growth vs. sustainable development with co-supervisor Dr Stephen Dovers. In 2006, Michael was seconded as a Departmental Visitor to ANU’s Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies as a representative of TNEP to work on capacity building material, under funding from the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship in collaboration with Griffith University, and other TNEP partners.

Supported by the team from The Natural Edge Project

Cheryl Desha (Paten), TNEP Education Director graduated in Environmental Engineering (First Class Honours) with the University Medal from Griffith University. Cheryl worked in an international consulting engineering firm for four years. In 2005 Cheryl was selected as the Engineers Australia Young Professional Engineer of the Year. Cheryl is a co-author of The Natural Advantage of Nations.

Peter Stasinopoulos, TNEP Research Officer, is a graduate in Mechatronic Engineering with First Class Honours and Mathematical and Computer Sciences from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Peter is focusing on the TNEP Design Principles Portfolio and in partnership with University of South Australia is now undertaking a Masters degree by research in the field of Whole Systems Design Engineering.

Stacey Hargroves, Professional Editor, is a graduate of the University of Canberra, holding a Bachelor of Applied Science. Stacey is currently undertaking a Masters in Editing and Publishing by coursework with the University of South Queensland. Stacey started TNEP in 2002 working as a copyeditor on our first book, ‘The Natural Advantage of Nations’, and has since worked on a number of key publications and deliverables since as our professional editor.