In early times, the transition from a hunter gatherer society to an agrarian model was a substantial change to the way people used natural resources. The principal idea driving the change was one of stewardship, based around better husbanding and harvesting of sustainable and accessible food.

According to Kevin Brady, who here revisits the findings of the paper on Eco-efficiency and Materials (published by ICME in 2001) the comparison between that earlier society transition and today's resource companies suggests that a stewardship strategy of "tending" the world's supply and use of metal resources will lead to a more sustainable supply.

The concept of eco-efficiency is not new. It was first introduced by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in 1992. However, over the past decade, eco-efficiency has emerged as a powerful concept that can guide businesses in their attempt to shift toward more sustainable forms of production and consumption.

Eco-efficiency can be broadly defined as the production, delivery, and use of competitively priced materials, goods and services, coupled with the achievement of improved environmental performance. It's attractiveness as a concept for both industry and government is found in the link between resource and energy efficiency, environmental performance and competitiveness.

The concept spans the entire value chain (suppliers, manufacturers or service providers, consumers, etc.) and the complete product life cycle (raw materials, manufacturing processes, use phase impacts, and end-of-life management). It seeks to identify improvement opportunities in all of these categories.

While eco-efficiency does not address social aspects of sustainable development, there is no question that eco-efficiency has been a key entry point for industry to gain an understanding of the business value of pursuing sustainability.