The English language is rich with aphorisms that warn us to take care before we proceed: “look before you leap”, “better safe than sorry”, “first do no harm” and “prevention is better than cure”. This notion of caution, originating in the German concept of Vorsorgeprinzip, loosely “forecaring principle”, lies at the heart of the debate about roles and responsibilities for resource efficiency.

The precautionary principle states:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

The key here is whether there is an obligation to act in the absence of absolute scientific evidence pointing to possible harm. Clearly, if such an obligation exists, then organisations today that are contributing to climate change by, for example, emitting CO2 to the atmosphere or reducing forests, have an obligation to take measures to reduce the threat to the environment brought about by their actions.  And the same principle applies to other forms of resource depletion, around water or biodiversity and so forth.