“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Dematerialisation literally means the use of less materials.

Dematerialisation is defined by UNEP as “the reduction of total material and energy throughput of any product and service, and thus the limitation of its environmental impact. This includes reduction of raw materials at the production stage, of energy and material inputs at the use stage, and of waste at the disposal stage.”

James Baldwin, the industrial designer and protégé of Buckminster Fuller, has stated “The less material used per function, the closer the design is to pure principle”. Baldwin worked with Fuller and others to perfect the Geodesic Dome which is an example of a building with maximum space and strength for minimum material use.

Dematerialisation is closely linked with improving products’ efficiency and with saving, reusing or recycling materials and products. It entails actions at every stage of the production and consumption chain:

  • resource savings in material extraction,
  • improved eco-design of products
  • technological innovations in the production process
  • environmentally conscious consumption patterns
  • recycling of waste, etc.

Dematerialisation strategies include:

  • the design and manufacture of a smaller product e.g. smaller homes, miniturisation
  • the design and manufacture of lighter products e.g. using alternative construction
  • the replacement of material goods by non-material substitutes (for instance a letter on paper replaced by an email)
  • the reduction in the use of material systems or of systems requiring large infrastructures (for instance using telecommunications instead of using a car to go to work)

Case study

The Hypercar

In an average car less than 1% of the energy used actually propels the driver. The Hypercar is light and small and so it only needs a small engine to move it and because the engine is small and light the car needs less materials and less energy to run it. Read more about The Hypercar»