In economics, dematerialization refers to the absolute or relative reduction in the quantity of materials required to serve economic functions in society. In common terms, dematerialization means doing more with less. This concept is similar to ephemeralization as proposed by Buckminster Fuller.
In 1972, the Club of Rome in its report The Limits to Growth predicted a steadily increasing demand for material as both economies and populations grew. The report predicted that continually increasing resource demand would eventually lead to an abrupt economic collapse. Studies on material use and economic growth show instead that society is gaining the same economic growth with much less physical material required. Between 1977 and 2001, the amount of material required to meet all needs of Americans fell from 1.18 trillion pounds to 1.08 trillion pounds, even thought the country's population increased by 55 million people. Al Gore similarly noted in 1999 that since 1949, while the economy tripled, the weight of goods produced did not change.
By most measures, quality of life improved from 1977 to 2001. While consumer demand is constantly increasing, consumers demand services such as communication, heating and housing, and not the raw materials needed to provide these. As a result, there is incentives to provide these with less materials. Copper wire has been replaced with fiber-optics, vinyl records with MP3 players while cars, refrigerators and numerous other items have gotten lighter.
- Bailey, Ronald (September 5, 2001). "Dematerializing the Economy". reason.com. Retrieved September 2, 2014.