Decoupling of economic growth and environmental impacts in Germany

Michael Lettenmeier, Iina Heikkilä

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientific


The paper highlights in which regard economic growth has been decoupled from environmental impacts in Germany. It is based on extensive desk research and six expert interviews.
The answer to the question if Germany can serve as an example for successful and absolute de-coupling is not unambiguous. Germany has succeeded in stopping the growth of material and energy use. However, absolute decoupling is happening only when natural resource use and other environmental impacts are decreasing in absolute terms. This has, so far, not happened to natural resource use in general but only to specific emissions that can be regulated by technical means.
Total Material Requirement and Total Material Consumption (TMR and TMC), as well as carbon footprint and ecological footprint have not increased nor decreased during this century in Ger-many. Water footprint and land use for food production have increased, as well as domestic land use for infrastructure and settlements, and biodiversity decline.
Absolute decoupling, i.e. the constant decrease of environmental impacts while the economy is growing, could not be stated for any indicator that takes into account also the environmental impacts of imports. However, the development within Germany's borders cannot be considered sufficient while both economy and material flows are subject of constant globalisation.
As a conclusion, general absolute decoupling cannot yet been found in Germany. However, Germany has been politically active in decreasing natural resource use and other environmental impacts. This is visible, for instance, in strongly increasing activities of states and companies in the field of resource efficiency. However, so far we are not yet able to claim general evidence that economic growth generally could be decoupled from resource use and other environmen-tal impacts when potential burden-shifting through imported goods is taken into account.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBoosting Resource Productivity
Subtitle of host publicationby Adopting the Circular Economy
EditorsChristian Ludwig, Cecilia Matasci
ISBN (Electronic)9783952140970
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeB3 Non-refereed article in conference proceedings
EventWorld Resources Forum: Accelerating the Resource Revolution - Geneva, Switzerland
Duration: 24 Oct 201725 Oct 2017


ConferenceWorld Resources Forum
Internet address


  • Decoupling
  • Germany
  • Indicators
  • natural resource consumption

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    Lettenmeier, M., & Heikkilä, I. (2017). Decoupling of economic growth and environmental impacts in Germany. In C. Ludwig, & C. Matasci (Eds.), Boosting Resource Productivity: by Adopting the Circular Economy (pp. 241-244)