How does income redistribution affect households’ material footprint?

This paper presents a study of the evolution of Spanish households’ material footprint for the period 2006 to 2013. The method proposed combines the multiregional input-output model with Spanish national data on household consumption according to social group. Material footprint has been affected by the 2008 economic crisis. In relative terms, the share of Spanish households’ material footprint, with respect to total material footprint, decreased drastically from 70.7% in 2006 to 50.8% in 2011. This reduction can be mainly attributed to the construction sector crash (34.4% of the reduction is due to construction materials), followed by biomass (29%), metals (27.1%) and fossil fuels (26.1%). By type of household, the material footprint exhibits a scale effect while consumption and income levels grow; and this is accompanied by a global teleconnection effect, which varies from 62% for biomass, to 64% for metals, to 82% for construction materials, to 95% for fossil fuels. Given the context of increasing income inequality, we perform one redistribution simulation from high to middle- and low-income households, finding a material footprint increase in all cases. The most materialized consumer basket is that corresponding to households with incomes between 1500 and 1999 euros. Above that income level, the growing weight of expenditures on services reduces the use of materials. Importantly, social (income redistribution) and environmental (material footprint) sustainability will become incompatible if responsibility is transferred only to households.