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Material use in the European Union 1980-2000: indicators and analysis

Material use in the European Union 1980-2000: indicators and analysis
Journal Article
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities
Since the notion of sustainability began to gain influence in the environmental discourse a decade ago, the
features of this discourse have changed remarkably. The focus moved from the output side of the production
system to a complete understanding of the physical dimension of the economy. In this view, the economy
was conceptualised as an activity, as a process of extracting materials from nature, transforming them,
keeping them as society's stock for a certain amount of time and, at the end of the production-consumption
chain, disposing of them again in nature. It has been recognised that environmental problems can arise at
every step in this process. Furthermore, it has been understood that not only problematic substances but
also problematic amounts of matter set in motion by society's activities result in environmental problems.
These insights have induced new approaches to environmental accounting, in particular material flow
accounting, which focuses on the „physical economy' in a comprehensive and integrative manner. Economy-
wide material flow accounts (MFAs) are consistent compilations of the overall material throughput of
economies. MFAs cover their focal subject completely and allow for extensive and flexible secondary
analysis as well as for the compilation of aggregate summary indicators.
For some years now, Eurostat and the Member States have been developing economy-wide material flow
accounts (German Federal Statistical Office 1995, 2000, Schandl at al. 2000, Gerhold et al. 2000,
Muukkonen 2000, Isacsson et al. 2000, DETR/ONS/WI 2001). Two international co-operations on material
flow accounting under the leadership of the World Resources Institute (Adriaanse et al. 1997, Matthews et al.
2000) and the publication in 2001 of „Economy-wide material flow accounts and derived indicators - a
methodological guide' (Eurostat 2001b) were major steps towards methodological harmonisation.
The European Environmental Agency (EEA) published first estimates of aggregate material indicators (TMR
and DMI) for the EU in its indicator report „Environmental signals 2000' (EEA 1999). The Wuppertal Institute
produced a first estimate of aggregate material use in the EU covering the period 1980-1997 for Eurostat
and DG Environment (Eurostat 2001a). The report „Environmental signals 2002 - Benchmarking the
millennium' (EEA 2002) includes data on TMR for 1980-1997. An indicator for material consumption is
included in the 2001 UN CSD List of Sustainable Development Indicators.
The objectives of this report are:
to present the results of the revised and updated 1980-2000 version of the initial 1980-1997 economy-
wide material flow account for the European Union compiled by the Wuppertal Institute (Eurostat
to take a first step towards identifying factors that explain the differences and changes in material use
at an aggregate as well as detailed level, cross-country and cross-time.
to describe the data sources and procedures applied, and to explain and justify the revisions made.
The indicators for material use that were compiled include:
Domestic extraction (DE): all materials (biomass, fossil fuels, minerals) extracted
for use in a country,
Direct material input (DMI): DE plus imported materials,
Domestic material consumption (DMC): DMI less exported materials
Physical trade balance (PTB): materials imported less materials exported
(synonymous with net imports or net trade).
The key goal of this revision and update was to improve data quality and comparability for the indicators
considered most important and most developed in terms of data quality and meaningfulness for policy at
present. These are DMC, DMI, and PTB (see Eurostat 2001b). TMR (Total material requirement), DPO
(domestic processed output), and NAS (net additions to stock) were not compiled for the new estimate.
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