Does ICT result in dematerialization? The case of Europe, 2005-2017
Current levels of resource use are unsustainable, but there is a debate about the most feasible way to reduce them. One proposed mechanism is technological innovation: specifically, the implementation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) could result in significant reductions in material consumption by substituting virtual for material goods, increasing resource efficiency, and replacing more resource-intensive sectors. Critics of this view argue that dematerialization due to ICTs is unlikely: they consume large amounts of resources and encourage additional consumption. Additionally, increased efficiency resulting from ICT use could lead to rebound effects, reducing their environmentally beneficial impact. This paper uses a novel measure–material flows–to investigate the relationship between ICTs and material consumption. I use a Prais-Winsten regression model to examine this relationship in twenty-five European nations from 2005 to 2017. Despite both expectations that increased technological innovation will reduce materials use, as well as opposing expectations that it will increase material use, I find no relationship between ICT use and material consumption at the national level. This suggests both patterns are likely possible: increased material use and ICT consumption is balanced by the increased efficiency of ICTs and reduced materials requirements.
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