Consumption and the Rebound Effect: An Industrial Ecology Perspective

Authors

  • Edgar G. Hertwich

    Corresponding author
      Industrial Ecology Program Norwegian University of Science and Technology NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway <edgar.hertwich@ntnu.no> < http:wwwwww.indecol.ntnu.no>
    Search for more papers by this author
    • 1

      Leader of the Industrial Ecology Program and a professor in the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. He is the editor of this special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology on sustainable consumption.


Industrial Ecology Program Norwegian University of Science and Technology NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway <edgar.hertwich@ntnu.no> < http:wwwwww.indecol.ntnu.no>

Summary

Measures taken to protect the environment often have other, unintended effects on society. One concern is that changed behavior may offset part of the environmental gain, something that has variously been labeled “take-back” or “rebound.” In energy economics, the rebound effect encompasses both the behavioral and systems responses to cost reductions of energy services as a result of energy efficiency measures. From an industrial ecology perspective, we are concerned about more than just energy use. Any given efficiency measure has several types of environmental impacts. Changes in the various impact indicators are not necessarily in the same direction. Both co-benefits and negative side effects of measures directed to solve one type of problem have been identified. Environment is often a free input, so that a price-based rebound effect is not expected, but other indirect effects not connected to the price, such as spillover of environmental behavior, also occur. If the costs and impact of products that are already environmentally friendly are reduced, the “rebound” can be in the opposite, desired direction. Furthermore, I identify technical spillover effects. Hence a number of related effects, often producing positive results, are not as well understood. Household environmental impact assessments and eco-efficiency assessments take into account the rebound effect, but they do not necessarily take into account these other effects. The analysis hence indicates that the current focus on the rebound effect is too narrow and needs to be extended to cover co-benefits, negative side effects, and spillover effects.

Ancillary