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Carrying a Heavy Load

In her attempt to quell my budding Boston driving habits, my mother used to caution me that I was driving around a “two-ton death machine”. But on a life cycle basis, the reality is actually much heavier.

If we consider all of the byproducts that are dug up and processed but not used, the ‘total material requirement’ of a passenger vehicle is about 25 times its physical weight. The concept of material intensity of production was popularized in the 1990s under the term ‘ecological rucksack’ by Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek and colleagues at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany.[1] In this image, the truck is carrying its own rucksack, made up of 1,100 cubic feet of dirt and rock stretching 44 feet into the air from the truck bed. This tunnel definitely does not have enough clearance…



[1] Hinterberger, F., Luks, F. and Schmidt-Bleek, F. 1997. Material flows vs.natural capital': What makes an economy sustainable?. Ecological Economics, 23(1).1-14.

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