Metrics used for resource efficiency incorrect and “misleading” notes new scientific paper


A scientific paper has suggested that the way metrics have been calculated to show decoupling of resource use from economic growth are “misleading”.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the scientists who wrote the report said “that achievements in decoupling in advanced economies are smaller than reported or non-existent”.


Using the material footprint (MF) consumption-based indicator of resource use in 186 countries, the authors of the study identified material flows associated with global production and consumption networks, to identify that current metrics such as the gross domestic product divided by domestic material consumption (DMC) as used as the headline metric in the European Commission’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe is likely to be inaccurate.

The report noted that the scope of DMC is limited to the amount of materials used in an economy, but does not include the upstream raw materials related to imports and exports originating from outside of the focal economy.

As a result, the reported suggested that the MF indicator should be used as this shows the “global allocation of used raw material extraction to the final demand of an economy”.

In the study, the scientists wrote: “As wealth grows, countries tend to reduce their domestic portion of materials extraction through international trade, whereas the overall mass of material consumption generally increases.

“With every 10 per cent increase in gross domestic product, the average national MF increases by 6 per cent.

“Our findings call into question the sole use of current resource productivity indicators in policy making and suggest the necessity of an additional focus on consumption-based accounting for natural resource use.”

The study was produced by scientists from University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, Australia National University and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University of California Santa Barbara and Tohoku University in Japan.