A multi-method approach for analysing the potential employment impacts of material efficiency

S. Cooper, A. C.H. Skelton, A. Owen, D. Densley-Tingley, J. M. Allwood

Combines interviews, multi-regional input output modelling and literature reviews to estimate the short term supply chain impact of using material more efficiently. The paper applies this multi-method approach to car sharing and re-using steel sections in the UK and finds that these two strategies would not adversely affect UK employment.


Material efficiency, reducing the amount of new material inputs per given level of service or output, can improve both the resource efficiency of an economy and reduce demand for energy and GHG emissions intensive materials. It requires a change in the way materials, components and final products are used along the supply chain with associated impacts on employment. Domestic policy support for material efficiency can be hindered by concerns that reducing demand for new materials will impact on employment. A multi-method approach for evaluating the employment impacts of material efficiency strategies across different products and regions is presented. It is applied to two case studies that could reduce demand for new steel in the UK: car clubs and re-using steel sections. Industry interviews supplemented by a literature review reveal how sector labour intensity, product prices and sales volumes might change along the mobility and construction supply chains in the short-term as a consequence of introducing these strategies. A static multi-regional input-output model is used to estimate the immediate direct and indirect supply chain employment impacts of increasing the material efficiency of steel use in the UK. The principal finding of this paper, based on industry expectations of feasible rates of deployment, is that the initial, immediate consequences of these actions would not adversely affect employment prospects in the UK. This is partly because car clubs can stimulate demand for new vehicles and deconstructing rather than demolishing buildings is labour intensive, substituting domestic labour for imported steel. These initial findings should motivate further research on the opportunities for material efficiency.