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Sustainability 2015, 7(5), 5345-5370; doi:10.3390/su7055345

Raw Material Equivalents: The Challenges of Accounting for Sustainability in a Globalized World

Institute of Social Ecology (SEC), Alpen-Adria Universitaet Klagenfurt-Wien-Graz, Schottenfeldgasse 29, A-1070 Vienna, Austria
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Marc A. Rosen
Received: 27 January 2015 / Revised: 16 April 2015 / Accepted: 23 April 2015 / Published: 30 April 2015
(This article belongs to the Section Social Ecology and Sustainability)
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Abstract

The indicator domestic material consumption (domestic extraction + imports – exports) is widely used to track the scale, composition, and dynamics of material use. As production increasingly occurs at a spatial distance from the demand it ultimately satisfies, new accounting challenges arise that this indicator may not be able to meet. In response, indicators in raw material equivalents (RME) have been developed to account for material use, no matter where it occurs, associated with final demand. RME indicators are most commonly calculated based on monetary input-output tables with material extensions. The resulting indicators, which are rapidly gaining scientific and political importance, must be interpreted as stemming from a mixed monetary and physical accounting approach. How such an approach differs from a physical accounting approach is shown in this article using an input-output model with a material extension. Neither the physical nor the mixed monetary and physical approach is found to generate results which are incorrect. Instead, the results must be interpreted in light of the assumptions entailed in the approach on which they are based. In making possibilities and limits of interpretation in both cases transparent, RME indicators can more readily be discussed and used by sustainability scientists and practitioners. View Full-Text
Keywords: indicators; material flow accounting; input-output analysis; trade; monetary accounting; physical accounting; raw material equivalents; material footprint indicators; material flow accounting; input-output analysis; trade; monetary accounting; physical accounting; raw material equivalents; material footprint
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Schaffartzik, A.; Wiedenhofer, D.; Eisenmenger, N. Raw Material Equivalents: The Challenges of Accounting for Sustainability in a Globalized World. Sustainability 2015, 7, 5345-5370.

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