Better enterprises – clean environment – green economy

Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) is a continuous process of improving the efficiency of use of natural resources (materials, water and energy), thereby reducing the generation of waste, effluents and air emissions, and thereby improving the well-being of people (workers, consumers and community), which in turn enables more productive use of natural resources. RECP can be and has been applied beneficially around the world in enterprises and other organizations of all sizes in particular in the manufacturing, processing and service sectors.


International Context

RECP was introduced in 2009 by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as an umbrella term that brings together comparable practices that had proven itself in preceding periods and showed great synergy, including Cleaner Production; Eco-Efficiency; Waste Minimization; Green Productivity; Pollution Prevention; and Toxics Use Reduction. RECP was then defined as: “integrated and continued application of preventive environmental practices and total productivity techniques to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and environment”.

RECP is an important means for achieving diverse policy objectives, in particular for sustainable consumption and production; green industry; sustainable tourism development; industrial energy efficiency; and innovation and competitiveness. These are also strongly embedded in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns); SDG 9: (Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation); and SDG 8 (Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all).


Business Case

Numerous enterprises around the globe have been able to profit from the implementation of RECP practices and techniques, as proven amongst others since 1995 by National Cleaner Production Centres in over 50 developing and transition countries, including in South East Asia in Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR.

Enterprises benefit from improving productivity whilst also ensuring continued market access, specifically through:

  • Reduction of production costs: enterprises can save by using less energy, less water and/or less materials
  • Increased productivity: enterprises can earn more by being able to produce more products
  • Increased quality: as rejects and wastes are reduced, overall product quality increases that can attract a higher price
  • Organizational efficiency: operators, management and staff work together to reduce waste, and their teamwork generally improves employee well-being and motivation and enterprises can thereby quicker introduce change in all areas
  • License-to-operate: RECP provides a cost effective way to achieve compliance with applicable environmental rules and regulations and therefore responsible business conduct.

Further Reading

  • National Cleaner Production Centres: 20 years of achievement – towards decoupling resource use and environmental impact from manufacturing growth, UNIDO, 2015.
    Download PDF


RECP implementation can be measured in terms of increases in productive output per unit of consumption of materials, water and energy and in terms of decreases in intensity of generation of waste, waste water and air emissions per unit of productive output. Application of RECP methods and techniques at Ratherewwa Desiccated Coconut Industry in Sri Lanka, for example, achieved 23% increase in energy productivity, 18% increase in materials productivity, 234% increase in water productivity, 90% decrease in carbon emission intensity, 66% decrease in waste water intensity and 78% reduction in waste intensity. Measures implemented included: switching to coconut shells as boiler fuel; coconut oil recovery from waste water; improved peeling and washing processes. The total investment of less than USD5,000 enabled annual savings exceeding USD300,000.



  • Enterprise benefits from Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production in Sri Lanka, UNIDO and UNEP, 2010. Download PDF

Further Reading

  • Enterprise level indicators for resource productivity and pollution intensity: a primer for small and medium sized enterprises, UNIDO and UNEP, 2010. Download PDF

Resource Productivity

Pollution Intensity

Material Productivity

Selection and efficient use of materials, including chemicals

Waste Intensity

Reduction and environmentally sound recovery, treatment and disposal of waste

Water Productivity

Selection of sustainable sources for and efficient use of water

Waste Water Intensity

Reduction and environmentally sound treatment and disposal of waste water

Energy Productivity

Selection of sources for and efficient use of energy

Emission Intensity

Reduction and environmentally sound discharge of air emissions


Implementation of RECP at enterprise level can be achieved in different ways, most often categorized in eight categories, or prevention techniques, respectively: good housekeeping; input substitution; better process control; equipment modification; technology change; onsite reuse and recycling; production of useful byproduct; and product modification.

Maintain a clean, organized and productive workplace to eliminate avoidable ‘wastage’

For example:

  • Switch off what is not in use
  • Repair what is broken or leaking
  • Keep workplace organized and clean
  • Minimize and manage inventory

Choose inputs that are efficient, effective and/or pose minimum harm to the environment and health

For example:

  • Use renewable energy
  • Use sustainably-sourced renewable materials
  • Use secondary materials, water and energy
  • Use less harmful chemical substances (dyes, paints, degreasers, etc.)

Monitor and control processes and equipment so that they always run at highest efficiency and with lowest wastage

For example:

  • Establish and follow Standard Operating Procedures
  • Sub-meter use of water, energy and materials
  • Install automatic shut-off and overflow prevention valves
  • Control pressure, speed, temperature etc. to actual process needs

Make existing equipment more efficient and less wasteful

For example:

  • Use energy efficient motors, fans, boilers, lights, etc.
  • Insulate hot and cold process equipment
  • Align and debottleneck production line
  • Close, hot and cold, process equipment

Change over to new technology that is more efficient or produces less waste

For example:

  • Solar heating, cooling, drying or lighting
  • New processes based on green chemistry and/or engineering
  • Process substitution, e.g. chemical to mechanical

Use previously ‘wasted’ material, energy and/or water for similar or alternative purpose in company

For example:

  • Countercurrent or cascaded use of water and energy
  • Condensate and heat recovery
  • Reuse of incoming packaging for outgoing products

Convert a previous ’waste’ for a useful use elsewhere

For example:

  • Provide used cooling water for external heating or cooling purposes
  • Segregate recyclables for external recycling and resource recovery
  • Industrial symbiosis , reuse in industrial processes

Redesign product to reduce its environmental impact during production, use and/or disposal

For example:

  • Design for optimal product lifetime
  • Design for minimum use of water, energy, cleaning etc.
  • Design for low-waste manufacturing
  • Design for refurbishment, recycling etc.


For any given enterprise a systematic RECP assessment based on root source analysis and root cause diagnosis is required to determine best combination of the prevention techniques. Execution of such RECP assessment can be organized in a traditional plan-do-check-act framework, with different levels of complexity and rigidity. A hands-on methodology catering to opportunities and challenges for small and medium sized enterprises is summarized below.

  1. Getting Started

1.1 Engage management and staff
1.2 Assess baseline performance and costs

  1. Assessing Operations and Practices

2.1 Map activities and flows
2.2 Inspect operations
2.3 Benchmark practices and performance
2.4 Establish priorities and actions

  1. Developing Solutions

3.1 Develop RECP Options
3.2 Evaluate feasibility

  1. Achieving Continuous Improvement

4.1 Implement and monitor
4.2 Manage for continuous improvement

More detailed RECP manuals include, for example, from the United Nations Environment Programme - Resource Efficiency in Small and Medium Enterprises or from Asian Productivity Organization: Handbook on Green Productivity or from the Australian Industry Group Eco-Efficiency Toolkit

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