The Wuppertal Institute's research on socio-industrial metabolism

Socio-Economic Metabolism

The Wuppertal Institute (WI) analyses how  transitions into a sustainable future can be shaped. Analysis of socio-industrial metabolism started in 1992 with the formation of the (former) department of material flows and structural change and its director and former vice-president  Friedrich ‘Bio’ Schmidt-Bleek. His ideas of a factor 10 by which industrial countries should reduce their resource requirements in the long run and the MIPS (Material-Input-per-Service unit) indicator were the starting point. In subsequent years, methods for measuring primary material inputs for the life-cycle of products, infrastructure, economic branches and whole economies were developed.


Milestone publications on economy-wide material flow analysis were produced through international collaboration with partner institutions, showing the feasibility and value of measuring  the ‘ecological rucksacks’ (also termed ‘hidden flows’ or ‘indirect flows’) of imports and exports, the Total Material Requirement of economies and shifts in resource flows and related environmental pressure between regions (e.g. the Resource Flows Report, Adriaanse et al. 1997, and the Weight of Nations Report, Matthews et al. 2000). These reports then triggered the development of methodological guidance manuals by Eurostat (2001) and the OECD (2008), to which the WI contributed together with institutes such as the IFF in Vienna.


The Material Flows and Resource Management Research Group analyses anthropogenic material flows from resource extraction, production and consumption to final waste disposal, including ‘ecological rucksacks’ and global land use. The group develops concepts, strategies and instruments for the enhancement of resoure productivity and sustainable use of natural resources 



Current work comprises:


  • International comparative analysis of the metabolism of countries and sectors, including retrospective analysis and future scenarios
  • Safe operating space of global resource use (materials and land use)
  • Resource implications of renewable energy technologies
  • Institutional developments for improved recycling (communities and international)
  • Drivers of eco-innovation
  • Policies for resource efficiency and sustainable resource management


A pilot publication gives an overview of the multi-scale method approach, key findings and future visions for socio-industrial metabolism:

S.Bringezu, R. Bleischwitz (contr. eds.) (2009): Sustainable Resource Management – Global Trends, Visions and Policies. Greenleaf Publishers, Sheffield.


Stefan Bringezu