in: Handbook of Sustainability Science in the Future, WL Filho,AM Azul,F Doni,AL Salvia, Editor, Springer Nature, New York, pp.1-13, 2022
Dematerialization is one of the key strategies toward sustainable development, identified also in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The ideal of dematerialization, with its multiple goals of reducing absolute materials consumption, reducing environmental impacts, by preserving or raising the quality and services provided to the public is a difficult target to hit. Not surprisingly, global dematerialization in absolute terms has not been achieved to date despite efforts and policies developed and enacted at national and regional levels. The current study summarizes dematerialization, available assessment methods, and its relation to development. One of the main goals of this study is to present challenges to dematerialization based on past attempts, to guide future studies or policies. There are several obstacles toward achieving intended gains through dematerialization which have been identified in this study. Among them, the rebound effect remains as the most persistent phenomenon counteracting most efforts and policies that have been implemented to date. Economic conditions of the times should also be included in studies that aim to assess dematerialization. While the most substantial gains in absolute material reductions have been obtained during economic downturns and recessions, it would be difficult to have continued public support to remain in a state of economic recession to reduce pressures on material consumption. A transition to a service-oriented economic model as compared to an ownership model is sometimes cited as a potential solution, but investigation of case studies indicates mixed results and warrant sectoral investigations. Likewise, discussions around product lifetime may be deemed inconclusive as impacts may go both ways depending on the specific product being analyzed, hence generalized statements should be avoided. Dematerialization at the industry scale may prove to be more effective than national or regional policies. Such policies must also be coupled with one or more assessment methods. A lack of careful measurement may hide real impacts and trends opening the way for unintended consequences.