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Indicators of Dematerialization and the Materials Intensity of Use


  • Cutler J. Cleveland
  • Matthias Ruth


We review the major empirical analyses of the related concepts of dematerialization and intensity of use. Dematerialization refen to the absolute or relative reduction in the quantity of materials used and/or the quantity of waste generated in the production of a unit of economic output A common indicator is the intensity of material use, which is the quantity of material used per unit of economic output. Our discussion focuses on seven topics: the environmental Kuznets curve for materials, material use and long wave theory material decomposition analysis, statistical, inpuboutput and dynamic models of material use, and analyses of national material use. We examine the measurement of aggregate material use and waste emissions, hypothesis testing, the importance of imports, and forces that countervail dematerialization such as rising affluence and the “rebound effect.” We conclude that: our knowledge of the extent of and mechanisms behind the patterns of material use are limited largely to individual materials or very specific industries, and most of those examples are metals; the economy is getting “lighter” but the aggregate economic significance of that trend, if any, is unknown; there is no compelling macroeconomic evidence that the US. economy is “decoupled” from material inputs; and we know even less about the net environmental effects of many changes in materials use. We caution against gross generalizations about material use, particularly the “gut” feeling that technical change, substitution, and a shift t o the “information age” inexorably lead to decreased materials intensity and reduced environmental impact. We end with some suggestions for research that may help answer these important questions.

Suggested Citation

  • Cutler J. Cleveland & Matthias Ruth, 1998. "Indicators of Dematerialization and the Materials Intensity of Use," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 2(3), pages 15-50, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:inecol:v:2:y:1998:i:3:p:15-50
    DOI: 10.1162/jiec.1998.2.3.15

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    Cited by:

    1. Susana Silva & Isabel Soares & Oscar Afonso, 2021. "Decoupling economic growth from emissions: the case of policies promoting resource substitution," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 23(6), pages 8331-8347, June.
    2. Jean-Philippe Boussemart & Hervé Leleu & Zhiyang Shen & Vivian Valdmanis, 2020. "Performance analysis for three pillars of sustainability," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 53(3), pages 305-320, June.
    3. Andrew Leigh, 2021. "Putting the Australian Economy on the Scales," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 54(1), pages 19-35, March.
    4. Vishal V. Agrawal & Atalay Atasu & Luk N. Van Wassenhove, 2019. "OM Forum—New Opportunities for Operations Management Research in Sustainability," Service Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(1), pages 1-12, January.
    5. Estrella Trincado & Antonio Sánchez-Bayón & José María Vindel, 2021. "The European Union Green Deal: Clean Energy Wellbeing Opportunities and the Risk of the Jevons Paradox," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 14(14), pages 1-23, July.
    6. Tiejun Dai & Shuo Shan, 2020. "Path Analysis of Beijing’s Dematerialization Development Based on System Dynamics," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(3), pages 1-23, January.
    7. Walmsley, Timothy Gordon & Ong, Benjamin H.Y. & Klemeš, Jiří Jaromír & Tan, Raymond R. & Varbanov, Petar Sabev, 2019. "Circular Integration of processes, industries, and economies," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 507-515.
    8. Dorothée Charlier & Florian Fizaine, 2020. "Does Becoming Richer Lead to a Reduction in Natural Resource Consumption? An Empirical Refutation of the Kuznets Material Curve," Working Papers 2020.05, FAERE - French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
    9. João Leitão & Joaquim Ferreira, 2021. "Dynamic Effects of Material Production and Environmental Sustainability on Economic Vitality Indicators: A Panel VAR Approach," Journal of Risk and Financial Management, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 14(2), pages 1-20, February.
    10. Alcott, Blake, 2008. "The sufficiency strategy: Would rich-world frugality lower environmental impact," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(4), pages 770-786, February.
    11. Dalia Fadly, 2020. "Greening Industry in Vietnam: Environmental Management Standards and Resource Efficiency in SMEs," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(18), pages 1-27, September.
    12. Fernández-Herrero, Laura & Duro, Juan Antonio, 2019. "What causes inequality in Material Productivity between countries?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 1-16.

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