What Drives Austrian Raw Material Consumption?: A Structural Decomposition Analysis for the Years 1995 to 2007

The growth in Austria's raw material consumption (RMC) or material footprint is driven by changes in consumption and production. In using the tool of structural decomposition analysis and applying it to Austrian RMC between 1995 and 2007, three specific drivers (technology, composition, and volume of final demand) are identified and quantified. The overall growth of Austrian RMC across the period of time under investigation shows that neither improved production or consumption efficiency nor reduction of consumption alone can lead to absolute material savings. The 'rebound effect' has been used to describe how efficiency gains can be offset by growth in overall consumption, putting 'degrowth' on the agenda of sustainability sciences and political movements. Absolute decoupling, that is, simultaneous growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and reduction of RMC, can only be achieved if reductions in final demand volume as a driver of material use are not offset by increases as a result of the changing final demand mix and/or technology effect (and vice versa). The Austrian case study provides very little evidence for such developments having occurred simultaneously during the period of time under investigation. In order for economic degrowth to contribute to lower material use and thus greater environmental protection, it must occur not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively in production and consumption structures.

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