Building Material Flow Accounts in the United States

Building a national system of material flow accounts in the United States could be an important step toward natural resource sustainability. But the task will not be as simple as “If you build it, they will come.” The key to understanding the status of and prospects for official material flow accounts in the United States is to see the picture from the point of view of public sector and environmental innovation generally, rather than from the point of view of building the details of the accounts themselves. A simple model of public sector innovation helps explain what is happening and what needs to happen to make further progress. The model used here has four principal elements: methods, organizational capacity, demand, and actual use. The details and sequence of these elements vary in different situations, but all four must be present for successful innovations. Although aspects of culture, innovation, and government bureaucracy differ from country to country, the basic model appears to be similar across borders, at least in countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Seen this way, recent events in the United States indicate that (1) there is significant potential for such accounts; (2) the United States is moving toward creating them, although not in a systematic manner, which means that the progression and eventual outcome are uncertain; and (3) there are ways for the research community to participate very positively in the public process.

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