Publications Theses for Sustainability - English

Theses for Sustainability

Without Dematerialisation there will be neither sustained Growth nor sustained Employment

Prof. Dr. Friedrich, Factor 10 Institute

The way we create wealth today is incompatible with a sustainable ecosphere. The physical root cause for this discordant situation is the extreme resource intensity of processes, food-stuff, goods and services. Not only are the waste streams governed by the magnitude of the inputs into the economy, the very displacement and extraction of resources in the environment forces major ecological changes too (SCHMIDT-BLEEK, 1993, 1998).

Some three planets earth would be needed for building the material future if the rest of the world follows the example of the OECD countries. Prices for fossils and water are bound to increase first and prices for the surface of the earth will follow. And long before the global economy begins to really hurt for lack of resources it will suffer seriously under the consequences of damages to the environment.

Dematerialization is the only systemic and accountable way that has so far been proposed for approaching sustainability. And resource productivity responds to market signals and the politically determined institutional framework as much as the productivity of labor, knowledge, and capital.

However, the present resource productivity is far below technical potential. More than 30 tons of non-renewable nature are consumed on the average before one ton of product is ready to serve human kind. Therefore the resource productivity of the current economy must be increased dramatically in order to approach sustainability. This is not possible without fundamental structural changes of the wealth-producing machine and the ways we measure progress. The present "throughput economy" must be transferred into a service oriented "Resource-Input-Optimized – a RIO-Economy", an economy, in which goods for end-users are largely replaced by services which are tailored to their specific needs.

Compared to present conditions, industrialized nations must increase their resource productivity at least tenfold. This way the global economy could not only be brought back into "ecological guard rails", but sufficient environmental space would perhaps be available for the material development of "the South".

There is now good evidence that a dramatic dematerialization is feasible from a technical, social and market economic point of view without loss of end use satisfaction. While the changeover is likely to be achievable within one generation, the process must be started without delay if major political and economic disruptions are to be avoided.

Political measures for approaching sustainability must be planned and executed on a long-term basis, democratically, reliably and in a transparent fashion. They also require international harmonization to a considerable degree for economic as well as ecological reasons. Piecemeal actions that are not imbedded in a systematic approach are bound to lead to unwanted consequences that in turn require corrective actions – again with unforeseen consequences.

The apparently helpless, confusing and surprisingly uncoordinated reactions in European capitals when faced in 2000 with long predicted oil and fuel price increases are a good example. It is dangerous to believe that the disjointed actions taken 'til now would be beneficial to either the economy or the ecology in the long run.

Eco-restructuring the economy requires as a first step the agreement on a future "landing place". This is a visionary construct that is very likely to satisfy basic social, economic and ecological requirements in a balanced way. Yardsticks (indicators) that reflect the key aspects of the "landing place" triad must be available for monitoring progress toward the "landing place" and for correcting unwanted developments in a timely manner. A realistic time horizon needs be established so that business and consumers have sufficient time for adjusting to the necessary changes.

"Factor 10" describes one key aspect of a future "landing place", particularly from an ecological point of view. F 10 is compatible with a future service oriented and knowledge based economy, the RIO-economy, and a market economy with growth potential. It provides room for end-use satisfaction for consumers, lower the likelyhood of armed conflicts, and will support the creation of jobs.

MIPS – the Material (plus energy) Input Per unit Service (per unit extracted value) and FIPS – the land-use Input Per unit Service (F for German Flaeche) are welll accepted LCA type measures for the ecological performance of the economy on the micro level. The MI includes the ecological rucksacks.

TMF – the Total annual Material Flow – is a well-accepted measure for the material intensity of economic units on the macro level. The TMF includes the ecological rucksacks.

COPS – the COst Per unit Service (per unit extractable/extracted value), should become the common price index in a service oriented RIO-economy.

Expanding the global trade and stimulating consumption in general is ecologically counterproductive as long as a drastic dematerialization of goods and services has not yet taken place. In this sense the GATT aids and abets the ecological collapse. In the long run, the present GATT even threatens the stability of the global economy itself.

It is more than unlikely that the present tax system in Europe and elsewhere allows reaching sustainability. In fact it may well be unsustainable in itself. While encouraging consumption to stimulate growth at the expense of natural resources it is more and more likely that financial obligations of the government can no longer be met soon because of a twinkling tax base, nor will encouraging consumption solve the problem of unemployment. A substantial shift from taxing income to taxing natural resources will not only give a boost to reaching economic and ecological sustainability. It can also be expected that considerable new employment would result.

It is hard to fathom how the global economy could approach ecological sustainability as long as special privileges associated with ownership of land continue to allow the cost-free use and extraction of natural resources. Foodstuff, ores, minerals, energy carriers, timber, water and many other commodities are thus relatively under-priced and invite over-use. Tax-exempting ownership of non-used buildings is another example.

In view of enormous existing subsidies it is essentially impossible to reach sustainability. In Germany alone, some 300 to 400 billion Deutschmarks are spent annually on mostly perverse subsidies that lead the economy ever further away from sustainability (i.e. agricultural overproduction under un-ecological conditions, construction of new buildings, transportation systems, infrastructure developments, coal production).

Many technical norms and standards render approaching sustainability difficult by causing considerable more resource use than seems necessary, such as standards for “room temperature”, for buildings and constructions, for traffic signs, for exaggerated stability requirements for buildings, for traffic lights, and for electrical equipment.

The success in exporting goods to the world market in 10 or 15 years will critically depend upon being able to offer dematerialized goods and services.

"Restructuring the global economy to make it environmentally sustainable represents the greatest investment opportunity in human history"... ."We agree on the need for fundamental changes in our present economic systems, corporate activities, and lifestyles."

GREB21 Meeting, Tokyo, 22. May, 2000
21-Business Leaders’ Inter-Forum for Environment 21,
Secretary General and Founder of B-LIFE 21: Tadahiro Mitsuhashi
Senior Editorial Writer, NIKKEI-Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Inc.
(see: )

Only industry can convince governments that essential adjustments of the current economic framework are needed if approaching sustainability is to become a profitable enterprise, financially attractive at the same time to producers, distributors and consumers.