The rationale for and economic implications of dematerialization

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.


A number of recent reports (e.g. IPCC 2007; MEA 2005) have suggested that the level of human population combined with the scale and nature of human economic activities are putting excessive, unsustainable pressure on natural systems. This is not the place to explore the physical science basis of these assessments in detail, but the basic conceptual model that they imply is, following Daly 1992, as in Figure 15.1. This suggests that the biosphere provides three kinds of function to human populations and economic activities: source functions, through the provision of energy and material resources of different kinds; sink functions, whereby land, water and air receive the waste materials and energy from human activities; and ecosystem services such as ozone shielding, climate stability, and many others, which together make the Earth, unlike like planets of which we are aware, habitable for humans. The biosphere is powered by solar energy, some of the heat from which is re-radiated into space. The human economy is currently mainly powered by fossil fuels.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... Allwood et al. (123) emphasize that large opportunities for reducing material demand through material efficiency lie particularly in longer-lasting products, modularization and remanufacturing, component reuse, and designing products with less material requirements. Regarding the impacts on economic costs and growth potentials, the decoupling hypothesis claims that in the short term there are many cost-effective opportunities for greater resource efficiency that will offset, wholly or partially, any costs incurred in this decoupling (120,124). ...
The growing extraction of natural resources and the waste and emissions resulting from their use are directly or indirectly responsible for humanity approaching or even surpassing critical planetary boundaries. A sound knowledge base of society’s metabolism, i.e., the physical exchange processes between society and its natural environment and the production and consumption processes involved, is essential to develop strategies for more sustainable resource use. Economy-wide material flow accounting (MFA) is a framework that provides consistent compilations of the material inputs to national economies, changes in material stocks within the economic system, and material outputs to other economies and the environment. We present the conceptual foundations of MFA and derived indicators and review the current state of knowledge of global patterns and trends of extraction, trade, and use of materials. We discuss the relation of material use and economic development and the decoupling of material use from economic growth in the context of sustainable resource use policies. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources Volume 42 is October 17, 2017. Please see for revised estimates.
... In Europe, a waste hierarchy was formulated by former scientist and Dutch politician Ad Lansink who proposed it in Dutch Parliament in 1979 (Parto et al., 2007). Subsequently, "A Community Strategy for Waste Management" (EC, 1989) stated that prevention is "the first guideline" while waste that could not be prevented is best recycled or reused, and waste that could not be recycled or reused ought to be disposed, effectively suggesting a three-tier waste hierarchy (Ekins, 2009). The strict priority order was 2 Logically, a preference order must contain at least three options in order to not be simply a preference. ...
Full-text available
Dematerialization can serve as a measurable and straightforward strategy for sustainability and requires changes in management of material inputs and waste outputs of the economy. Currently, waste management is strongly inspired by the waste hierarchy, an influential philosophy in waste and resource management that prioritizes practices ranging from waste prevention to landfill. Despite the inclusion and prioritization of prevention in the hierarchy, the positive contribution of the application of the waste hierarchy to dematerializing the economy is not inevitable, nor has it been conclusively studied. In this paper, the waste hierarchy is analyzed on a conceptual level by studying its original aims, its potential to fulfill those aims, and its actual policy implementation. Issues with the hierarchy include limited specification and implementation of prevention, a lack of guidance for choosing amongst the levels of the hierarchy and the absence of a distinction between open-loop and closed-loop recycling. Also, the hierarchy only communicates relative priorities and therefore does not support decisions that affect other sectors as well as waste management. The article concludes that the waste hierarchy in its current form is an insufficient foundation for waste and resource policy to achieve absolute reductions in material throughput. Suggested improvements are the adoption of a value-based conception of waste and related collection practices, more stringent and targeted policies on least desirable options like landfill, the specification of waste management targets based on dematerialization ambitions, and the use of the waste hierarchy within a resource productivity-oriented framework.
Sustainability and especially climate change as a prominent sustainability issue, has initiated a situation, where scientists, economists, investors and politicians participate in a discourse about proposing actions for mitigating the impacts and adapting to new situations. What makes it complex for businesses is that many impacts are fairly indirect and still intangible. Furthermore, the policies are still forming and the markets are not showing clear indications. The business decisions require awareness of the situation and possible consequences of the decision. In case the strategies are informed ones, the risks can be seen as opportunities for businesses to proactively strategize for the future. The research task is to understand the need for sustainability strategies in businesses and to use an integrated approach with a life cycle perspective as a starting point. The integrated approach in this context encompasses both mitigation and adaptation as responses, i.e. reducing impacts and modifying the own business so that it survives in the future. The thesis utilizes three research methods (content analysis, surveys, event methodology) and EU commission reports, surveys, investment announces and historical stock prices as data sources. The Climate and Sustainability SWOTs are named as streamlined tools to systematically approach the future. Their basis is the life cycle framework, which includes the impacts caused upstream in the supply chains, or downstream in the consumer or end-of-life actors. There is a tradeoff between usability and accuracy of the results when using these tools but they can be taken as first-cut approaches to lessen the lack of structure in the assessment. According to the results of this study they are able to generate operative and strategic changes within the life cycles. It is encouraging that the streamlined approach tailored according to the logic of business decision-makers is able to find the acceptance and understanding of that vital group. In fact, awareness to climate change, or any sustainability issue, is an important trigger for business action and so far greatly undervalued. Keeping in mind that the LCA community is faced with fears of having its methods understood only by a subset of professionals, the tools need to become accessible for wider audiences. Furthermore, the regulatory framework is undergoing changes. Only by considering the future’s regulatory framework, will the company maintain its license to operate. Finally, the investors are expecting actions by the companies in order to ensure future operations.
This chapter presents the methods for measuring material productivity. Material productivity is a composite indicator of GDP and material consumption. In Sect. 5.1 material flow analysis—the method for measuring material consumption—is presented and discussed. This includes its intellectual origins dating back to the 1960s as well as the basic concept and accounting methodology. The manifold uses of material flow analysis include measuring decoupling and dematerialization. The indicators relevant for this analysis are described in more detail and their limitations are discussed. Section 5.2 focuses on the measurement of productivity by means of productivity indicators. Single and multifactor productivity measures are described and issues concerning productivity indicators in general are discussed.
The prominent role played by innovation and technological progress for improving resource efficiency has been recognized in the context of policy recommendations. Open-access resources on the other hand have no defined property rights; therefore, no one can legally restrict access to them. As a consequence, they can be exploited on a first-come-first-serve basis. Their main features are nonexclusivity, which means that anyone can exploit the resource, and divisibility, meaning that any withdrawal from the stock lessens the amount available for the use of others. These features also lead to inefficient allocations, as with sufficient demand open access will cause overuse and as scarcity rents cannot be appropriated by anyone, there is therefore no incentive to conserve. Society and the economy are embedded in the environment, and everything that is extracted from the environment, for instance, for purposes of production and consumption at some point in time, returns as an output into the environment again.
As resource consumption rates soar, especially in rapidly industrialising Asia, improving resource efficiency will be an important agenda. This study analyses socio-economic conditions and policy statements on natural resources in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, to explore their motivation for resource efficiency policies and material flow analysis/accounting (MFA). Among them, Malaysia and Thailand could be significantly motivated to develop resource efficiency policies and MFA, particularly in terms of trade balance and manufacturing sector development. Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines do not have such conditions now. Indonesia and Vietnam, however, would be motivated in the longer term, considering their transition to an industrialised economy and the possibility of increasing domestic demand in an emerging economy context. Metals and industrial minerals are more imported than exported, would generally be prioritised resources in the study countries. This means that the 3Rs will be a vital approach for resource efficiency. In addition, some countries are resource exporting countries, which might consider the resource extraction impact. Whereas resource efficiency aspects are conceptually well reflected in their national strategies, concrete resource efficiency policies have not been developed. These various socio-economic conditions would be significant to emerging Asia to develop concrete resource efficiency policies and MFA indicators.
Full-text available
This paper compares the Kyoto Protocol’s production-based accounting method to calculate a country’s CO2 emissions with a consumption-based accounting method that measures the carbon embodied in goods in the country where they are consumed. The choice between the two accounting principles implies an inherent judgment on whether the producer or the consumer is responsible for the CO2 emissions. The comparison raises questions on international environmental justice as well as political implications regarding the responsibility for carbon emissions and climate change. This paper argues that consumption-based accounts are a useful complement to production-based accounts because they provide a basis for sharing environmental responsibilities between producer and consumer countries. Using a multi-regional input output (MRIO) model we find that CO2 emissions embodied in internationally traded goods accounted for 27% of the total energy-related CO2 emissions in 2005, up from 22% in 1995. The G77 countries consume 23% less CO2 emissions than they produce while OECD countries consume almost 30% more CO2 emissions than they produce. The G77 have a combined CO2 trade deficit of more than 3 billion tonnes and thus deliver almost all the net imports of the OECD countries. The largest net importers of embodied carbon emissions in 2005 were the US (1255 Mt), Japan (380 Mt) and the biggest European economies (France 275 Mt, Germany 257 Mt, and the UK 232 Mt). The largest net exporters were China with 990 Mt (an increase of 63% compared to 1995), the Russian Federation (330 Mt) and India (136 Mt). The highest carbon leakage occurred in the United States (1,250 Mt CO2 from consumption originated from non-Annex I countries). The European Union imported 1,450 Mt CO2 from non-Annex I countries. Policy implications: Consumption-based carbon accounting puts the credibility of the reduction achievements under Kyoto into a different perspective because it would not allow the reduction of national carbon budgets by substituting domestic production for imports. A consumption-based accounting system might be perceived as fairer than production-based accounting, especially by net-exporting countries. Measuring the CO2 emissions and other environmental outputs of world trade may be useful in revising and finding fair emission targets and may encourage technology transfers and mitigation activities. A consumption-based approach to carbon accounting combined with appropriate policy instruments such as quotas or taxes may help shift comparative advantage away from pure economic measures to a logic that also considers environmental aspects. Finally, the debate on global environmental responsibility should not only focus on CO2 emissions but also consider the effects of other greenhouse gases and the unsustainable use of other resources such as raw materials, land and water.
This paper discusses the issue of whether environmentally sustainable growth is a feasible aspiration and, if so, how it might be brought about and how the levels of such growth would relate to those currently being experienced. Given the substantial accumulating evidence of serious environmental degradation from current patterns of economic activity, it is clear that these will need to be substantially changed if the ability of the natural environment to support large human populations is to be sustained. Such changes will need to be brought about by strong, sustained policy. Evidence presented in the paper suggests that the technological means of transforming current activities exist, and further evidence is also presented that, given efficient policy, these technologies may be widely implemented with relatively low costs. The key issue is the nature, strength and consistency of the policy signal. While environmental tax reform emerges from the analysis as probably the most promising policy approach, the paper ends with a rather sombre conclusion that, despite this policy instrument’s benefits, there are a number of political reasons why it is likely to be difficult to introduce.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.