mass of aluminum, steel, cement, and polystyrene yields an approximate ratio of 85:10:2:1 (Agarwal, 1990; Hocking, 1991). Of course, materials rarely substitute for one another in products in a 1:1 mass ratio.
Historically, substantial scientific and engineering effort has been directed at improving the properties of metal alloys. Future gains may come in the area of polymers stiffened in the direction of loading, ceramics toughened to resist fracture, and composite materials designed to accentuate the best qualities (i.e., light, strong, and tough) of each material class. Although advanced materials may be difficult to reprocess, recyclability is not the single measure of environmental friendliness. This property must be weighed against gains derived from shifting to materials that perform functions using less mass, require less energy to process, and generate less incidental waste.
The composition of the food we consume, directly or indirectly, impacts the environment. Reduced national meat consumption accompanied by a rise in fruit, grain, and vegetable consumption diminishes the acreage used for grazing and feed in favor of less land-extensive crops. Cultivation of legumes and rice affects nitrogen fixation rates and atmospheric methane concentrations, respectively. Fertilizer and pesticide use rates are tailored to specific crops. In this case as with the others, input composition metrics clarify the environmental dimension of varying the mix of materials society consumes and shed light on paths for future development.
Intensity-of-use metrics show the evolution of individual materials used in the national economy by indexing primary, as well as finished, materials to GDP (Figure 4; also, see Malenbaum, 1978). These measures inform policy choices relating to natural resources by helping to gauge developmental status and to define realistic goals that integrate economic growth and improved environmental quality. In the energy sector, the declining intensity of carbon use, ''decarbonization," of the U.S. economy relative to economic activity as well as energy use has been well established (Figure 5).
Intensity-of-use metrics also can show physical resource efficiency. For example, in 1990, the ratio of agricultural produce (e.g., grain, hay, fruit, and vegetables) to fertilizer inputs (e.g., nitrogen compounds and phosphates) was roughly 10:1 (Bureau of Mines, 1991b; United States Department of Agriculture, 1992). The ratio of food actually consumed by humans to mineral inputs is considerably lower. Other sectors using raw inputs as well as auxiliary materials for production (e.g., iron ore, coke, and lime for steel; wood and chemicals for paper) could apply similar environmental performance measures.
A virginity, or raw materials, index measures the ratio of national raw materials use to total national inputs. It monitors the distance a society must go to stop