Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wiki Entry - Resource Depletion and Design

Sara Greenwood

Textile Design

Resource Depletion and Design

Resource depletion is the term used to describe the decline in the raw material of our world. They can be categorised as either non-renewable or renewable resources. Renewable resources are continually produced usually through natural cycles. Non-renewable resources cannot be replaced within a socially relevant time scale to prevent the damage which extracting them causes. (Chapman and Mather 1995, pg14)It is in our interest to prevent resource depletion from further occurring as our planet’s resources are essential to the human economy so they must be sustained in order for us to continue to exist.

“The limited availability of these commodities, together with their technological importance...begin to act as a constraint on the economy’s growth potential” - Heal, G, The Optimal Depletion of Natural Resources (1974 pg1)

The main causes of resource depletion are our ever growing population, our excessive consumption and the poor distribution of our natural resources themselves. These factors are putting increased strain on earth’s finite materials. We are now working towards cutting back on our use of these scarce resources by using renewable alternatives to prevent their complete exhaustion.

A Brief History

Economists are highly interested in the depletion of our resources as it has an adverse effect on economic growth. It is ‘...the allocation of scarce resources to satisfy human wants’ (Norton, 1984), that is the reason for economics. Early economists from the late 18th and early 19th century had differing opinions on what the causes and effects of resource depletion were.

The economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, was known for his pessimistic views on the world’s ability to cope under the extreme pressure of resource depletion. Malthus believed that natural resources reach a point at which they can no longer provide adequately for the expanding population. Once the population has reached a certain point the land is the limiting factor as it does not have the capacity to provide for such masses, (Norton, 1984). An ever increasing marginal cost will be the result of any additional output during the production of our natural resources.

Source: Resource Economics, G.A Norton, 1984

John Stuart Mill had differing opinions on the topic of resource depletion. Although his logic was similar to Malthus’ in that our natural resources are not limitless, he did not believe that complete exhaustion was inevitable (Norton, 1984 pg106). His belief that technological advances would keep the population from exhausting our resources as it increased can be found in ‘Principles of Political Economy’, 1848. Norton states Mill’s idea that resource scarcity is not a consequence of our population but a specific problem in itself. Furthermore we must consider that the depletion of our resources have varying consequences depending on the individual category which is diminishing.

Resource depletion has been an issue since the 1700’s within Eastern European society. Although prior to this indigenous groups used sustainable agricultural methods within their networks. This was to ensure the land was kept fertile, for reuse.

The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt stressed the importance of preserving our resources during his seventh annual message, of December 1907:

“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed”.

As Roosevelt states, the careless ways in which we did and continue to use our depleting resources will not help in reducing the effect facing generations to come.
The consumption of oil in the United Kingdom over recent years has become increasingly higher. Oil reserves cannot withstand this pressure which is why as shown in the below image less oil is available for extraction. It is clear we are already struggling to meet our needs due to the depletion natural resources.

“Levels of oil extraction amounted to 72 million tonnes in 2008, approximately 5 million tonnes less than in 2007”. – National Statistics Online, (2010)

Source: Office for National Statistics; Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)

Pearce and Rose explain that we must not focus primarily on the short-term events which occur prior and during the shortage in natural resources, as the future is of most importance (Pearce and Rose, 1975 pg 21).

Resource Depletion and Design

Design practice is greatly affected by resource depletion, regardless of discipline. The key elements, which designers use to create their designs, are mainly sourced originally from nature. The extraction of these materials from the land and the production methods which the textiles industry implements, can have a devastating impact on the land and its resources. It is important that designers know the origin of their resources and that they can ensure they are being economically gathered and processed. Sustainability must be considered now, before it’s too late.

“Issues such as global warming, resource depletion and waste disposal are strongly affected by product design, and urgently need addressing” – Greenwood, T, ESP (n.d)

The textiles industry plays a crucial role in resource depletion. The manufacturing of resources from raw materials can be extremely wasteful and harmful to the environment. Population increase has meant that there is increasing demand for commodities, thus resulting in mass production and resource depletion.

The cotton industry infrastructure is changing due to increased rainfall and flooding throughout countries such as India, causing a decrease in cotton production. This therefore means the price of cotton will increase due to high demand. By March 2010 cotton yarn prices had already increased by 25%.

India has adequate spinning capacity although the lack of power supply hinders production. The chairman of South Indian Mills Association, J. Thulasidharan explains, “Most spinning mills in Tamil Nadu are able to operate only at 65% of their full capacity”. (Livemint 2010)

To try and reduce the effects of the current rate of production The Pakistan Textile Exporters Association temporarily banned the export of cotton. Countries which have a high consumption rate such as Vietnam and China would feel the effect of this. Clothing prices would increase due to the limited resources and their demand for garments would no longer be being met. (Livemint 2010)

Similar price inflations are set to occur within the UK market due to the scarcity of resources. Neil Saunders, the consulting director at retail experts, Verdict believes the hardest hit will be retailers in the mid-market range: "Retailers who will struggle to grow volumes will have to take a hit on profits or put up prices - that means those in the middle market, such as Next, Bhs and Marks & Spencer." (Saunders, N, 2010)

Scarcities lead to innovation. Designers can work towards solving the problems resource depletion is causing. Dramatic changes should be further made as to how we use our resources. (Chapman and Mather 1995, pg16) The introduction of new ecological techniques within the textiles industry such as botanical dyes could decrease the effect harmful dyes have on the environment. Use of botanical material in its natural form for dyeing will deplete the stages at which harmful dyes are discarded after use. The dyes are made from renewable resources, which lead to an increasingly sustainable environment. It may not be plausible for the mass market at present to use these dyes although if independent designers chose this method over the conventional then it could encourage others to consider this technique at a later date.

Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles, India Flint (Source :

Designers must realise that the resources our planet provides us with are not in any way unlimited. With this in mind, it is essential that we manage the distribution and use of these resources conservatively rather than to continue to take advantage of what we have at present.


Barbier, E.B, (1989), Economics, Natural Resource Scarcity and Development, Conventional and Alternative Views, London, Earthscan Publications Ltd

Chapman, K, Mather, A.S, (1995), Environmental Resources, Essex, Longman Group Ltd

Greenwood, T, ESP, Eco Sustainability, (n.d), [accessed 4.10.10]

Heal, G, (1974), The Optimal Depletion of Natural Resources, University of Sussex, The Review of Economic Studies Ltd

Livemint: Cotton Yarn Prices May Rise Further, (2010), [accessed 4.10.10]

National Statistics Online, Oil and Gas Reserves , (2010), [accessed 3.10.10]

Norton,G.A, (1984), Resource Economics, Victoria, Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd

Pearce, W.D, Rose, J (1975), The Economics of Natural Resource Depletion, London, The Macmillan Press Ltd

Roosevelt, T, (1907), Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, [accessed 01.10.10]

The Independant, Soaring Cotton Prices Put Pressure on Inflation, (2010), [accessed 3.10.10]