Chapter 2 described two visions for transforming the energy system of The Netherlands into a climate-neutral system by 2050. The two visions differ strongly in terms of the final demand for energy and the technologies needed to meet this energy demand. However, in both visions, measures to reduce the final demand for energy play a vital role in keeping the growth of demand for energy under control. Specific attention is paid to the role of material management in reducing this final demand for energy. This is also the main focus of this chapter.

Improving material management is just one way of reducing the use of fossil fuels, along with a wide range of other options, such as improving energy efficiency, greater use of renewable energy and shifts in the use of fuel types (from high to low carbon content). Unlike the other options, improving material management is not commonly incorporated in national and international policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is remarkable since several studies indicate that this option has great potential and is often economically attractive. Hence, the fact that improved material management plays an important role in the two visions outlined in Chapter 2 is understandable, but it can also be regarded as a breakthrough in its own right.

The reason improving material efficiency may lead to reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is given below. Figure 7.1 gives a simplified overview of the life cycle of materials in an economy. Raw material production, material production and product manufacturing require large amounts of energy. Together, these processes form the industrial sector. In 1995, the industrial sector1 accounted for about 40 per cent of the global total primary energy use (Price et al., 1998). A limited number of materials account for the bulk of this energy use and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Table 7.1 provides an overview of these materials and the emissions associated with production and waste handling for the year 1995 in the Western European situation.

Table 7.1 shows that the production of these bulk materials accounts for roughly 1 Gton CO2 equivalents of greenhouse gas emissions, which is approximately one-quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions for Western European.2 If materials were used more efficiently, either in the product manufacturing stage or in the consumption stage of products, less material would need to be produced and therefore less energy would be needed in the raw material and material production stage.3 Consequently, more efficient material management is likely to lead to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.

More efficient material management generally leads to dematerialization. There are different definitions of dematerialization in the literature but it generally refers to an absolute or relative reduction in the quantity of materials used in the production of a unit of economic output.4

In the next section, we will present some theoretical concepts to describe and analyse the relationship between material use and economic development, since this shows how necessary (and difficult) it is to strive for dematerialization. We then describe ways to use materials more efficiently and present modelling results on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Next we will consider a new trend (the shift from products to services) and discuss how this trend may affect material use and material policies. In the last sections we will focus on policy implications and end with some conclusions.

Life cycle of materials

Life cycle of materials

service fulfilment (e.g., transportation)

Figure 7.1 Schematic representation of material life cycle

1 Excluding refineries.

2 This excludes transport to consumers and product manufacturing from materials.

3 It is also possible that other materials will need to be produced when materials are substituted. This leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions when fewer greenhouse gases are emitted in producing the substitutes.

4 Improved material management goes further than dematerialization. Material substitution, for example, is a valid measure to improve material management when it leads to reduced environmental impact. However, when it leads to an increase in material use (in kg), this measure is not regarded as dematerialization.

service fulfilment (e.g., transportation)

Table 7.1 The annual emissions of greenhouse gases in Western Europe in 1995 due to the production and waste handling of materials, calculated according to accounting guidelines issued by IPCC (Hekkert, 2000)


Non-CO2 greenhouse-gas

Total Fraction


CO2 equiv. pa)

(Mt CO2 equiv. pa) (Mt CO2 equiv. pa)







Synthetic organic materials





Natural organic materials





Inorganic materials





Ceramic materials










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