Economy-WideMaterial Flow Analysisand Indicators

Economy-wide material flow analysis depicts the material basis of a country or region. It measures the exchange between nature and the economy through trade with other economic regions.

This so-called "socio-industrial metabolism" is described by indicators for input, output, consumption, balance, and productivity.
The most comprehensive input indicator is the Total Material Requirement. It measures the domestic and foreign resource extraction, which is associated with the production and consumption activities of a country. The total material requirement includes both raw materials, which as such are further processed, and extractions for economic purposes, which are per se not further used (e.g. mining waste and excavation for infrastructures).

Container port
The traded resources with the highest share of associated indirect flows are iron, hard coal, copper, tin, and, increasingly, palm oil. Regarding the burden balance between regions, Europe is the biggest shifter, whereas Australia and Latin America bear the greatest environmental burden due to resource extraction.

The "raw material productivity" (GDP/raw material consumption) indicator of the German Sustainability Strategy currently only measures abiotically used extraction and directly imported raw materials (see the progress report on "Integrated environmental and economic accounts"). Thus, the continuous shift of resource extraction to foreign countries via the import of semi-manufactured and final products is shown – misleadingly – as progress. The real primary resource requirements are not accounted for.

In the Sustainability Strategy, the German government has set the target of doubling the raw materials productivity by 2020 (base year 1994). The German Resource Efficiency Programme expressed the intention to also consider indirect resource flows via imports as well as used and unused extraction of primary materials. The Wuppertal Institute develops concrete options and suggestions to this end. Material flow analysis techniques are primarily employed in the Circular Economy Division's Circular Systems Research Unit.


Here you find publications on economy-wide material flow analysis.


Here you find research activities in the field of economy-wide material flow analysis.

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