Translation of the book „WIEVIEL UMWELT BRAUCHT DER MENSCH, – MIPS, das Maß für ökologisches Wirtschaften“

Birkhäuser, Basel, Boston, Berlin, 1994

Translated by Reuben Deumling Berkeley, California, 1993



You have before you the English translation of the first extensive account of the Factor Concept 1. And here is a bit of history how Factor 10 came about:


It was in 1989 when I realized that our approach to environmental protection could not get us to sustainability. Lack of progress demanded that we had to re-consider getting involved in solving one isolated problem after the after. Our attention had to be switched from the emission side of the economy to the enormous consumption of natural resources. Only this way we could control the outputs and make the right decisions before the damage was done and payments for it became due. And what about energy? Shouldn’t we begin to worry about its material intensity, rather than limiting our focus on the associated emissions, like SO2 and CO2?


It was a difficult and exciting time. Hardly anybody believed that maintaining a stable ecosphere would require dramatically reducing the use of resources. Factor 10 I said was the average reduction goal for rich countries! What I claimed was that we should measure environmental stress potentials of goods and services with a balance rather than – or at least in addition to – with a gas chromatograph or a mass spectrometer. Megatons, so I declared, were our overriding problem, not nano-grams. And the ecological rucksack was to be the new yardstick for the production of dematerialized goods, and its big brother MIPS for assessing their whole life-cycle. Ernst von Weizsäcker gave me a chance to solidify my model at the newly created Wuppertal Institute. To some degree he even believed my ideas. As is well known: he reached out for factor 4 later when he began writing about resources and energy. When you ask him about that, he will tell you that a tenfold improvement has to be reached in the long term. His earlier finding that prices do not speak the ecological truth is as true today as ever. And as long as this is the case, sustainability is but a dream.


In my endeavors at Wuppertal I got selfless competent help from young colleagues who had the guts to stand up to doubts, ridicule and even abuse from inside and outside the institute. Without being able to name them all, here are those who made vital contributions early: Stefan Bringezu, Friedrich Hinterberger, Harry Lehmann, Christa Liedtke, Christopher Manstein, Helmut Schütz, Joachim Spangenberg, Hartmut Stiller, Ursula Tischner, und Jola Welfens. I am grateful for their help in bringing my model to life. Without them a large basket of publications would not have appeared, convincing the world slowly that resource productivity of goods and services play a decisive role if a future with a future is to be gained.


Lately, industry and the ministers of economy have begun to worry seriously about the continued availability of natural resources. Welcome to the debate on a limited planet earth! One can only hope that nations will not apply economic power ruthlessly in the struggles ahead. The poor people would be again the ones to pay the price. And ecologically as well as economically we would continue to move away even further from sustainable conditions.


During the past 20 years we have shown in many enterprises that a radical reduction of resource use for goods and services must not lead to a loss in end-use satisfaction.


But the big question stubbornly remains: what does it take for finally breaking away from the old ways and move toward a new economic reality?



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