Chapter 18: Dematerialization and rematerialization as two recurring phenomena of industrial ecology
Sander De Bruyn* Consumption of materials and energy is an important interface between the economy and the environment. Analyses of the patterns, causes and eﬀects of materials and energy consumption are therefore very relevant in industrial ecology. The concept of dematerialization refers to the decline of material use per unit of service output. Dematerialization can be an important factor in making industrial societies environmentally sustainable: ﬁrst, because dematerialization contributes to relieving scarcity constraints to economic development, and second, because, ceteris paribus, dematerialization reduces waste and pollution since, owing to the law of conservation of mass, every material resource input sooner or later turns up as emission or waste. However, dematerialization does not necessarily mean that wastes are minimized and material cycles are closed. Dematerialization is therefore equivalent to lowering the level of industrial metabolism without ensuring that the metabolism moves towards the more nearly closed cycles that can be found in ecosystems. (In the heart of the industrial ecology movement in the USA, the emphasis has traditionally been more on re-use, recycling and materials cascading than on dematerialization; see, for example, Frosch and Gallopoulos 1989.) Several historical investigations suggest that dematerialization is occurring spontaneously in some developed countries (see, for example, Larson et al. 1986; Jänicke et al. 1989; Nilsson 1993) and in the material content of individual products, such as automobiles (see, for example, Herman et al. 1989; Eggert 1990). Labys and Waddell (1989) oﬀered a diﬀerent perspective, noting that much of what appears to...
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