MFA Indicators and Their Relevance to Sustainability

A number of flow aggregates expressed in metric tons per year can be derived from the MFA framework for a country or a national economy (Table 12.1).1

By using different denominators, these (extensive) flow aggregates can be related to certain reference scales, resulting in a set of intensive variables that allow comparisons of socioeconomic systems of different scales in relation to relevant dimensions. The most important reference scales are population, indicating the material intensity of a society; size of territory, indicating the intensity of use of a given area; and size of the economy, resulting in an indicator of material efficiency (Weisz et al. 2005a). For some purposes, it is also useful to relate aggregate flows to one another (dimensionless indicators).

Table 12.1. Overview of material flow analysis indicators.




Domestic extraction

DE comprises the raw materials domestically extracted that enter the economy for further use in production or consumption processes (excluding water and air).

Im and Ex

Imports and exports

All materials and goods imported or exported with the weight they have at the time they cross the border.


Direct material input

DMI = DE + Im. DMI covers all materials entering the socioeconomic system for further processing or final consumption.


Direct material

DMC = DE + Im - Ex. DMC measures all


materials that are used within the observed economy for processing or final consumption.


Physical trade balance

PTB = Im - Ex. PTB is a measure of net imports or net exports.


Domestic processed output

DPO comprises all wastes and emissions released to the domestic environment.


Net addition to stocks

NAS = DMI - DPO. NAS measures the physical growth of an economy.


Raw material equivalent

RME comprises all material extracted and used to produce traded goods (semimanufactured or finished).

Source: Eurostat (2001a).

Highly aggregated MFA indicators provide a rough overview of specific resource use patterns but cannot tell us anything about the environmental impacts. However, disaggregated MFA indicators on a level of detail that is "consistent and meaningful in terms of physical and chemical properties, economic use, and environmental pressure associated with the primary production of the materials" (Weisz et al. 2005a) provide enough information for an analysis of driving forces and a development toward a sustainable use of resources "without impairing the strength of MFA in providing an overall picture of the economy-wide material flows" (Weisz et al. 2005a).

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