Economy-wide Material Flow Analysis and Indicators

Economy-wide material flow analysis depicts the material basis of a country or region. It measures the exchange between the natural environment and the economy and – via 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. Total Material Requirement contains 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 are the largest takers of environmental burden due to resource extraction.

The indicator "Raw material productivity" (GDP/Raw material consumption) of the German Sustainability Strategy so far measures only abiotic 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). In the German Resource Efficiency Programme, the intention was formulated to consider also 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.


Michael Ritthoff

Tel.: +49 202 2492-207

Fax: +49 202 2492-138

Publi- cations

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


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