Less, Smaller, Lighter: Dematerialization of Products

Less is more when it comes to the climate. We’ve all seen it: cars got bigger and more, per capita living space grew, eating up all the advances in efficiency, thermal protection &c. In short: demands grew along with possibilities.

Now Prof Edgar Hertwich from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Prof Stefan Pauliuk from Uni Freiburg have calculated how many emissions can be avoided if we achieve the desired benefits with less material input – which is called “dematerialisation”. In doing so, they limited themselves to the areas of residential buildings and cars up to the year 2050 and evaluated a number of strategies for this:

  • share rides, regularly or ad hoc
  • use car pools or rental cars – both instead of owning a car
  • generally use smaller cars
  • reduce the average per capita living space by 20% compared to the reference
  • build multi-family houses instead of single-family houses
  • use more wood instead of concrete and steel as building material
  • increase reuse and recycling of building elements and materials
  • longer-lasting products, if they are emission-saving products
  • reduce waste and scrap in production
  • produce lighter products in general

Annual production of new steel from ore would decrease to about 17%, cement production to about 25%, new copper production to about 50%, new plastic production to about 0%. The cumulative emission by 2050 would be only 85% of the reference value.

The absolute effect of dematerialisation would be greatest in the developing countries – presumably because much is still produced there that already exists here.

Decarbonisation has many facets. “Less – smaller – lighter” is one that runs completely counter to the trend so far and is therefore expected to meet with resistance. But what should we do?


This text has been published in German on piqd.de and on my German blog.

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