New Challenges for Poverty Reduction
Edited by M. A. Mohamed Salih
Chapter 12: Digital Dematerialization: Economic Mechanisms Behind the Net Impact of ICT on Materials Use
Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh, Harmen Verbruggen and Vincent G.M. Linderhof 1 Hans Opschoor was interested in conceptualizing the environmental impact of economic activities. He regarded the measurement of the material scale of such activities and related flows as a relevant research approach. In this setting, he developed the notion of material-product chains. Here we consider the influence of a widespread use of ICT on material flows. In 1987 Nobel laureate in economics, Robert Solow noted an apparent paradox:2 ‘You can see the computer age everywhere these days, except in the productivity statistics.’ This chapter offers a framework for understanding the total, direct and indirect, impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on materials use. Due to the introduction of the Internet, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become an integrated element of the economy and society in the last decade. It is evident that the implementation of ICT technology can contribute to increases in productivity of production factors, such as labour, capital and natural resources. A logical question in the context of environmental studies then is whether improved resource productivity in turn implies beneficial impacts on material and energy use and, indirectly, a reduced pressure of economic activities on the environment. So far, no clear trend of dematerialization in absolute terms has been found at national levels (Ayres et al. 2004). In the context of the impact of the Internet on sustainable consumption, Reisch (2001) argues that growth and rebound effects will outweigh resource efficiencies. Moreover, Park and...
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