Policy for material efficiency in homes and cars: Enabling new climate change mitigation strategies

Reid Lifset, Edgar Hertwich, Tamar Makov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Material efficiency (ME), making products with less material or substituting with less carbon-intensive material without a loss of functionality, can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and complement other strategies to mitigate climate change. Seven ME strategies for cars and homes in the G7 countries were recently modeled in a study by the International Resource Panel. Modeling indicates that ME strategies focusing on construction and use of homes could lower the overall cumulative emissions in the G7 between 2016 and 2060 by 8.5 Gt CO2e (20%), while ME strategies for the production and use of cars could reduce up to 12 Gt (24%). For both homes and cars, the strategy of more intensive use—where fewer or smaller products are required to provide the same basic service—showed the greatest potential. A review of existing ME policies reveals that attention to ME in climate policy has been limited. Policy toward ME has historically focused on waste management rather than GHG reduction. Ex post evaluation of policies that do exist, especially for recycling and related waste strategies, is infrequent. Framing efficient use of materials as a measure primarily intended for climate mitigation is relatively recent and uncommon. Production-related policy opportunities have been neglected because using ME to reduce GHGs is novel in some sectors and because increased ME faces economic and social barriers. Rebound effects where reduction of the cost of housing or transportation can increase material consumption offsetting potential gains, a problem for all efficiency-based approaches, is understudied and not currently addressed through policy. This article is categorized under: The Carbon Economy and Climate Mitigation > Policies, Instruments, Lifestyles, Behavior The Carbon Economy and Climate Mitigation > Decarbonizing Energy and/or Reducing Demand.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2024


  • automobiles
  • building and construction
  • circular economy
  • climate policy
  • material efficiency
  • resource efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science


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