Dematerialization is a paradigm in resource conservation strategies. Material use should be reduced so that resource consumption as a whole can be lowered. The benefit for humankind should be completely decoupled from the natural expenditure by a definite factor X. Instinctively, this approach is convincing, because our entire value-added chain is based on material transformation. Targets for mass-based indicators are found within the context of justification for ecological carrying capacity and intergenerational fairness, taking into account the economic and socio-political expectation of raw material scarcity. However, in light of further development of material flow indicators and the related dematerialization targets, the question arises as to what they actually stand for and what significance they have for resource conservation. Can it be assumed that pressure on the environment will decline steadily if the use of materials is reduced, whether for an economy or at the level of individual products or processes? The present narrative review paper has discussed this issue and takes into account the authors’ experience of the extended political and scientific discourse on dematerialization in Germany and Europe. As a result, a high “resource relevance” cannot be inferred from high physical material inputs at any of the levels considered. It has been shown that establishing mass-based indicators as control and target variables is questionable and that dematerialization exclusively based on such indicators without mapping other resources should be critically examined.
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