Progress in Economywide Material Flow Accounts and Analysis

Material fl ow analysis (MFA) has a considerable history within studies of environmental accounting and industrial ecology. From a purely academic perspective, recent MFA studies might appear to be something of a reinvention, because MFA is based on a simple and generic methodological principle. Nevertheless, valuable progress has been made in its application to environmental and other problems, in the compilation of data by official statistical institutions, and in efforts to change methodologies and improve the relevance of this system-analytic tool in a policy environment (Moriguchi 2007).

In 1997, the World Resources Institute published a report from an international joint study that aimed to capture the totality of material flows associated with economic activities (Adriaanse et al. 1997). The focus was on the inflows of natural resources from the environment to the economy. Direct material input (DMI) and TMR were proposed as parameters to characterize input flows. TMR is the sum of DMI and hidden flows (the indirect flows of material associated with resource extraction). TMR is particularly relevant to metals, because mining of metal ores is often accompanied by a large amount of hidden flows, such as overburdens and tailings.

Since the late 1990s, international networks of experts in the MFA community have been strengthened through both nongovernmental and governmental channels. Examples of the former include ConAccount (Coordination of Regional and National Material Flow Accounting for Environmental Sustainability) and the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE). Examples of governmental support include OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and EUROSTAT (Statistical Office of the European Commission). The various organizations published guidance documents on economy-wide MFA to support the statistical work of member countries (EUROSTAT 2001; OECD 2008a, b, c). The development of national material flow accounting and indicators depends greatly on the skill and diligence of the users, as evidenced by the Norwegian (Alfsen et al. 2007) and Japanese (Moriguchi 2007) experiences.

International comparisons of the key indicators DMI and TMR have been undertaken for a large number of countries (Bringezu et al. 2004). In addition, many individual country case studies have since been published, including one for China (Xu et al. 2007).

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