Material Flow Accounting: Measuring Global Material Use for Sustainable Development

The growing extraction of natural resources and the waste and emissions resulting from their use are directly or indirectly responsible for humanity approaching or even surpassing critical planetary boundaries. A sound knowledge base of society's metabolism, i.e., the physical exchange processes between society and its natural environment and the production and consumption processes involved, is essential to develop strategies for more sustainable resource use. Economy-wide material flow accounting (MFA) is a framework that provides consistent compilations of the material inputs to national economies, changes in material stocks within the economic system, and material outputs to other economies and the environment. We present the conceptual foundations of MFA and derived indicators and review the current state of knowledge of global patterns and trends of extraction, trade, and use of materials. We discuss the relation of material use and economic development and the decoupling of material use from economic growth in the context of sustainable resource use policies.