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close this bookIndustrial Metabolism: Restructuring for Sustainable Development (UNU, 1994, 376 pages)
close this folderPart 1: General implications
close this folder3. Industrial restructuring in industrial countries
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentIdentifying indicators of environmentally relevant structural change
View the documentStructural change as environmental relief
View the documentEnvironmentally relevant structural change: Empirical analysis
View the documentTypology of environmentally relevant structural change
View the documentSpecific conclusions
View the documentGeneral conclusions


Until recently, the role of economic or industrial change as a driving force for environmental change has not been widely explored.) This may be due in part to the difficulty of collecting suitable data and indicators with which to describe the impacts of an economic structure on the environment. In part it may be due to the fact that the level of economic development or the growth rate of the economy was thought to be more important for explaining the changes occurring in the natural environmental.

The present chapter approaches the links between the various sectors (or industries) of the economy and the overall economic performance and addresses the possible delinking of polluting sectors (or industries) from the gross domestic product (GDP); it thus views restructuring as one way towards a more efficient industrial metabolism.

Such an examination could take place on the level of the individual sector (or industry) or the aggregate level of all sectors (or industries), but also at the regional level. It should at least be undertaken for those sectors (or industries) whose environmental effects are rather certain (structural environmental impacts). This would imply a mesoeconomic, not a micro-economic, approach to understanding environmental change. Such an examination may make it possible to assess current structural changes in economies and, on the basis of their environmental implications, may suggest future directions for environmentally benign structural policies.

The expression "structural change" or "restructuring" is generally used to characterize the decline or increase over time in certain sectors, groups of industries, or regions (and, sometimes, technologies) as regards gross national/domestic product.³ One may also think of structural change in terms of a transformation in the mix of goods and services produced; or one may refer to a broader set of changes in the economy, not only in its products and employment, but also in the social relations of production (e.g. unionization, part-time v. full-time jobs), the means of production (handicrafts, robotics), and the forces of production (market demand, profits).

Clearly, not all possible classifications and groupings are helpful or of interest for purposes of structural research. One either has to make an explicit choice, or one has implicitly made one in using or referring to a well-known, long-established concept of structural change. In this chapter, we will use one of several concepts of structure in economics, namely the sectoral production structure - i.e. the share of sectors in the economy and their relation to gross domestic/net material product.

Economic restructuring thus subsumes industrial restructuring, though the terms are often used interchangeably. Any restructuring of the sectors (or industries) in an economy is, of course, linked to more profound changes in other realms. For our purposes, and within this concept, we will deliberately select sectors whose environmentally destructive potential is beyond question. Thus we will not consider the regional structure, the employment structure, and the investment structure, even though all of these might be quite relevant in explaining the given environmental situation of a country, or its change over time.

Regarding the temporal dimension of structural change, there is, as we will see, a differentiation to be made between discontinuity and gradualism. There is economic restructuring as a discontinuity, or a break in development, and there is gradualism as an evolutionary or slow transition. Discontinuity may be the outcome of subterranean historical processes, but gradualism is the everyday reality of change. Clearly, the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same coin.

As regards impacts, we use the term "structural environmental impact," which means the environmental stress (or burden) that results from a given sectoral production structure, irrespective of pollution-control measures in the form of end-of-pipe treatment.