The high ‘price’ of dematerialization: A dynamic panel data analysis of material use and economic recession

Qinglong Shao, Anke Schaffartzik, Andreas Mayer, Fridolin Krausmann

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2017 Elsevier Ltd Dematerialization at the national level occurs almost exclusively during periods of economic recession or low growth. While recession is not a sustainable strategy to curb environmental impact, such periods may offer important insights on the possibilities of reducing material use. Economic recession research has focused on the interactions between macroeconomic and financial variables with little systematic research dedicated to uncovering how resource use develops during periods of recession. Using a dynamic panel model, we investigate whether and to what extent material use in a sample of 150 economies between 1970 and 2010 was affected by recession and low growth. Recession occurred most frequently and in more than two thirds of all countries during the 1980s and the 1990s. In the 2000s, more than half of the recessions occurred during the financial crisis of 2008. Periods of recession were significantly and negatively correlated with material use - they tended to coincide with dematerialization. Material use decreased in recession years, but the significant correlations with growth in material use became weaker as growth rates increased. Construction minerals and metals, used to build stocks of manufactured capital, reacted more strongly to economic fluctuations than the throughput-dominated flows of biomass and fossil fuels. We conclude that the systematic link between recession and dematerialization can become policy-relevant if the mechanisms causing reductions in material use during these periods are identified.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)120-132
    JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2017


    • Dematerialization
    • Economic recession
    • Low growth
    • Material use
    • Panel data analysis

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