Material consumption efficiency and the ecological performance of territories: A cross analysis of 67 metabolisms

By Guilherme Iablonovski, Sabine Bognon

As concentrations of populations and their activities, cities are places where economies of scale manifest themselves to a high degree. Urban territories are also subject to many “best practice” planning strategies (including densification, as opposed to sprawl) in order to attain sustainable development. Following a socio-ecological transition, cities could therefore be defined as places of high ecological performance.Nonetheless, the UNEP’s International Resource Panel recently published a report that relativizes material efficiency and ecological performance, but presents territorial metabolism as a tool that identifies the paths to follow and the actions to take in order to attain such goals.The scientific literature concerning territorial metabolism has produced an ever-expanding number of non-consolidated propositions on the factors that link resource consumption practices and territorial ecological performance. This paper seeks to confront the principles that serve as the foundation to the notion of sustainable cities with the diagnoses that have been conducted within territorial metabolism studies. It is a question of putting in perspective, on the one hand, the materialization of policies linked to sustainable urban development, and on the other hand, the ecological performance of territories, as measured by their metabolism indicators. These comparisons allow the visualization of recurrences, aberrations, contextual logics and forms of universality, considering the contexts that were inductively analyzed.

  • urban metabolism
  • material flow analysis
  • urban allometries
  • sustainable development
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