Material Footprint of Nations

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* Study: The material footprint of nations. By Thomas O. Wiedmann, Heinz Schandl et al.



"Metrics on resource productivity currently used by governments suggest that some developed countries have increased the use of natural resources at a slower rate than economic growth (relative decoupling) or have even managed to use fewer resources over time (absolute decoupling). Using the material footprint (MF), a consumption-based indicator of resource use, we find the contrary: Achievements in decoupling in advanced economies are smaller than reported or even nonexistent. We present a time series analysis of the MF of 186 countries and identify material flows associated with global production and consumption networks in unprecedented specificity. By calculating raw material equivalents of international trade, we demonstrate that countries’ use of nondomestic resources is, on average, about threefold larger than the physical quantity of traded goods. 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% increase in gross domestic product, the average national MF increases by 6%. 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." (


"This original research paper addresses a key issue in sustainability science: How many and which natural resources are needed to sustain modern economies? Simple as it may seem, this question is far from trivial to answer and has indeed not been addressed satisfactorily in the scholarly literature. We use the most comprehensive and most highly resolved economic input–output framework of the world economy together with a detailed database of global material flows to calculate the full material requirements of all countries covering a period of two decades. Called the “material footprint,” this indicator provides a consumption perspective of resource use and new insights into the actual resource productivity of nations." (

Three times as many raw materials are used to export traded goods than are used in their manufacture

Excerpted from Matt McGrath:

“In a new study, they found that three times as many raw materials are used to process and export traded goods than are used in their manufacture.

Richer countries who believe they have succeeded in developing sustainably are mistaken say the authors.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many developed nations believe they are on a path to sustainable development, as their economic growth has risen over the past 20 years but the level of raw materials they are consuming has declined.

But this new study indicates that these countries are not including the use of raw materials that never leave their country of origin.

The researchers used a new model that looked at metal ores, biomass, fossil fuels and construction materials to produce what they say is a more comprehensive picture of the “material footprint” of 186 countries over a 20 year period.

In 2008, around 70bn tonnes of raw materials were extracted worldwide but just 10bn tonnes were physically traded. Over 40% were used to enable the processing and export of these materials.

“By relying on current indicators, governments are not able to see the true extent of resource consumption,” said Dr Tommy Wiedmann from the University of New South Wales.” (

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