Bound to Rebound: Efficiency with consequences

factory magazine title Rebound

The 2014 edition of WWF's Living Planet Report reveals that humanity is using 50% more natural resources per year than the planet can regenerate and yield sustainably. Furthermore, the mountain of our debt to nature continues to grow, whilst our stocks of resource are constantly diminishing. People in Germany have a particular responsibility, especially since each of us consumes twice the amount of resources as the global per capita amount available would allow. We are therefore living at the expense of other countries. But the Living Planet Report also contains good news: our ecological footprint has remained unchanged in recent years despite the fact that our prosperity has been increasing. This is a result of improved resource efficiency, with more value being created with fewer resources.

However, even with increased raw material productivity, we cannot reach the strategic sustainability goal that we have set: between 1994 and 2020, raw material productivity is likely to have increased by only approximately 82%.

If economic growth and prosperity continue to depend strongly on the consumption of natural resources, it will not be possible to limit the increasing conflict-laden demand for resources. The rebound effects are growing mercilessly, most efficiency gains are leading to fewer resource savings than expected. 

How high are these rebound effects really? How are they measured and how can they be kept in check? After 30 years of research on rebound, there are still major scientific differences and a great need for further research. 

This has also been recognized by the German Bundestags's Study Commission on Growth, Wellbeing and Quality of Life, which commissioned an expert opinion from our author Reinhard Madlener. In this issue of factory, he introduces the various categories and facets of rebound.

Tilman Santarius and Wolfgang Sachs are two additional experts on the rebound phenomenon. They argue for a sufficiency revolution prior to the efficiency revolution. Then there is Bernd Draser who looks at the tragedy of efficiency efforts, and Andreas Exner addresses the constraints of the prevailing system. Ralph Hintemann outlines how the rebound effects have developed during the digital revolution, and the working group of Folkwang University argues for a smart upgrade of things in order to raise awareness for resources. In an interview, Peter Hennicke, the former President of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, who recently received the German Environmental Award, and the physicist and political scientist Stefan Thomas call for a realistic consideration of the rebound effect – as well as its limitation by sufficiency policies and by setting upper limits on consumption. Only with the help of such measures – and this is the key finding of this issue of factory – can we prevent rebound effects from delaying the most important effect of resource efficiency measures in the long run: the reduction of the global resource consumption.

We hope this factory issue provides you with many insights into rebound.

Ralf Bindel and the factory team 

Translated from the German by: Miriam Eckers, Cornelia Enger and Bianca Gerards

More articles to this topic we present not only online but in our magazine Rebound. It ist finely illustrated and good readable on tablets and screens and contains all articles and pictures as well as numbers and citations.

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