ISSUE II - Efficiency Paradox (September 2017)

Why focus on efficiency?

Efficiency has become a  popular measure in many of the policy areas of the European Union, including energy policy, the circular economy and climate policy. However, despite its ubiquitous use, the term efficiency is surrounded by considerable confusion. Indeed, in some cases improvements in efficiency may lead to increased consumption. This edition of The Nexus Times enters in the current debate on efficiency targets with a critical analysis of the term efficiency and its related paradoxes.

In this edition, you will find two articles that discuss the efficiency paradox from different points of view, highlighting some of the challenges that efficiency targets may pose for the governance of the water-energy-food nexus. We also take you through the historical origins and development of the concept of efficiency, and talk about how this concept is used in two of the policy areas that MAGIC is analyzing: energy policy and the circular economy.

These articles are intended to generate a discussion on the use of the term efficiency in setting policy goals. We welcome any comments and contributions to the discussion, including article contributions. To get in touch, please use our discussion forum or write to us

We hope you enjoy this latest edition of The Nexus Times!

Kind regards, 

The MAGIC Nexus team. 


Table of Contents

  • VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency
  • The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?
  • Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals
  • Is renewable energy efficient?
  • From religous concept to industrial tool
  • The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency

Increasing energy efficiency helps to use resources more economically. But what if greater efficiency in a complex system actually uses up more energy resources overall? This video explains this paradox of energy efficiency, also known as the Jevons Paradox.

The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?

In a world of limited resources and increasing human impact on the environment, using resources more efficiently seems sensible. Many policies see efficiency as an important instrument to achieve their goals. In the case of energy policy, the EU has published in 2012 a directive on energy efficiency and in June EU energy ministers agreed to support a 30% energy efficiency target for 2030 as part of proposed legislation to improve the EU's electricity market. In water management, efficiency is seen as a means to deal with water scarcity in arid regions.

Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals

The Jevons Paradox and rebound effect can be seen as one of the same thing as both observe higher consumption levels due to increased efficiency. But the real public policy question we should be asking is: do we want to live in a consumption-driven society?

Is renewable energy efficient?

Renewable energy and efficiency are both essential to meet the EU’s sustainability goals, but synergies and trade-offs between the two measures are under-studied.

From religous concept to industrial tool

Far from having a straightforward definition, the term 'efficiency' has taken on many different meanings throughout history, showing that its meaning is highly contextual, writes Tessa Dunlop.

In its most general sense, the term ‘efficiency’ has become a central ideal in the world’s advanced industrial cultures. Efficiency often signifies something good, as in a job well and economically done, and is associated with ideals of individual discipline, superior management, and increased profits.

The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

Proponents of the circular economy call for actions to be 'eco-effective': but is this another efficiency paradox?