First of all, the method used in this study leaves room for refinement.21 Certain problems remain as regards data, particularly the differences in computing the national (domestic) product in East and West. The question of substitution processes (steel/plastics, for example) is of high relevance and should be further investigated.22 Additional information is needed if, for instance, industrial and not overall consumption of energy, or the specific impacts of energy production (such as lignite v. gas), are taken into consideration. The international trade in wastes and the transfer of polluting industries and technologies from developed to developing countries need further study, etc. That means that economic structural change is about not only quantity of energy and materials inputs, but also, and increasingly, about quality, transformation, and interrelations.
Fig. 7 Structural economic change in Japan, 1970-1985 (1970 = 100) (Source: Jänicke d al., note 8)
Fig. 8 Structural economic change in the CSSR, 1970-1985 (1970 = 100) (Source: Jänicke et d., note 8)
Beyond these analytical limitations, however, the advantages of comparing the development patterns of individual countries become evident:
- Restructuring, in the sense of delinking energy and materials inputs from economic growth, was significant in many of the industrial countries. In the period under investigation, less than half of these countries clung to the traditional modes of quantitative growth in physical output per se. Countries that did so were the low-income Western countries and most of the countries of Eastern Europe.
- Certain Western countries enjoyed environmental gratis effects as a result of structural change. In some cases, especially in Sweden, these beneficial effects were quite considerable.
- In other Western countries, the possibly beneficial environmental effects of structural change were levelled off by the rapid economic growth pursued. This was especially true in the cases of Japan and Norway.
- The relationship between the scale of the economy (GDP) and environmental impacts from energy- and materials-intensive production, still evident in 1970, had weakened by the 1980s. The economically advanced countries underwent fairly rapid structural change.
- In the low- and medium-income countries among the industrial countries, distinct development patterns emerged. There were cases of rapid quantitative growth and also cases of qualitative growth, i.e. economic growth with constant or decreasing energy and materials input.
All in all, it is, unfortunately, not yet possible to speak of one dominant development trend among the industrial countries towards dematerialization, recycling, improved industrial metabolism, or sustainable development.