Environmental Impact of the use of Natural Resources and Products

A key issue in European policies on resources and products, is the development of an aggregated impact indicator to measure decoupling: an indicator that is expected to show the impact of environmental pressures related to resource use and economic development on the state of the environment in an aggregated manner. In this study, various indicators have been assessed and recommendations are made for the use of such an aggregated environmental impact indicator, or set of indicators, at the Eurostat Datacenter for Natural Resources.

The indicator assessment included the following indicators: HANPP (Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production), EF (Ecological Footprint), DMC (Domestic Material Consumption), EMC (Environmentally weighed Material Consumption) and EE-IO (Environmentally Extended Input Output) derived indicators.

To be used in a general decoupling context, the indicators should be (1) encompassing with regard to the economic system, (2) encompassing with regard to environmental impacts or pressure, and (3) include foreign impacts that are related to consumption within EU. This was tested in a number of hypothetical case studies.

The conclusion from this exercise is, that none of the indicators appears to be the ideal decoupling indicator. All have their own strenghts and weaknesses, but also their own potential niche of useful policy supporting application.

HANPP and EF are both rather limited in their scope and are therefore less suitable as general decoupling indicators. The other three are more encompassing. For a policy on resources, it is important to have the resources and resource flows visible in the indicator. Resource flows themselves are captured in the DMC or TMC indicator, based on MFA accounts. The EMC seems most suitable to add the environmental dimension. By using these two indicators, the "double decoupling" of the Resource Strategy can be made measurable. A combination could be considered of EMC and EF, taking strong points out of either. The EF then could supply the land use data and the EMC the emissions, including CO2.

A product policy could benefit clearly from an EE IO approach. This may be the only way to get a perspective on all combined products in a national economy. A product policy obviously should be supplemented by product studies for priority product groups based on detailed LCAs. Without these, it would not be possible to do eco-labelling or provide guidelines for product design – be it ecodesign, design for recycling or otherwise. However, the individual products are too numerous to keep track of all of them: instead of roughly a hundred materials, there are tens of thousands of different products to keep track of. A certain amount of aggregation therefore is inevitable, and to do this via EE-IO seems a sensible road to take.