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Ecological sustainability of material resources – Why material efficiency just isn’t enough


In a finite system like the earth economical use and preservation of resources is mandatory. The aspiration to fulfil the demand of an increasing population with raised standards of living and to generate on-going economic growth leads to certain dilemmas concerning material resources. The paper will elaborate on the differences of economics with relatively scarce resources and economics with absolutely scarce resources with a focus on material resources. Currently many sustainability initiatives try to solve the problem of scarce resources by increasing efficiency. But general economic principles which increase efficiency such as economies of scale and learning curve effects demand high quantities and high lot sizes. Thus, efficiency in an economic sense does not always mean resource efficiency, which should not only include material efficiency but also preservation of resource availability and resource stewardship. If sustainability research takes the definition of the Brundtland report seriously and wants to meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” then in the long run there needs to be a shift to renewable resources. This shift leads to new problems concerning overuse and tragedy of the commons as well as competition for acreage. The paper argues that sustainability research needs to change its focus from a mere increase of material efficiency to the problems of resource stewardship and preservation of natural resources taking a system dynamics perspective. It will elaborate on some of the possible directions these more wide-spread approaches may lead to.

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Correspondence to Carsten Deckert.

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Deckert, C. Ecological sustainability of material resources – Why material efficiency just isn’t enough. uwf 24, 325–335 (2016).

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  • Supply Chain
  • Renewable Resource
  • Resource Consumption
  • Rebound Effect
  • Resource Efficiency