Keywords: conditional sustainability, development trajectory, economic efficiency, economy, environment, materials intensity, sustainable development, energy efficiency, throughput, economic growth
This paper presents the methodology and findings of a research effort designed to improve understanding regarding the relationship between economy and environment. The more that economic activity and development become uncoupled from physical throughput of natural capital, the greater the possibility for sustainability of both the economic and natural systems. While gains in energy efficiency, substitution, and technology have contributed to the gradual decoupling of throughput of natural capital from economic activity, there exists the counterforce of growth in population and increases in consumption. Using an analytical structure called conditional sustainability, this paper evaluates the nature of the changing relationship between economic activity and the environment, and assesses the degree to which throughput has been (and can be) decoupled from economic growth and development in support of sustainable development.