Other chapters: All things natural order material social order produced assets content techno order
Sections: ontology natural order social order techno order classifications nesting & abstraction domain models


To explain and achieve by programmes and projects the goals of sustainability, equity and capability, stakeholders (institutions, governments, economic operators, companies and persons) need high-quality modeling and data support.

The interest in an eco-system is related to the system's capability to create outcomes (value) for society. On the other hand, the system operations and maintenance also gives rise to costs and externalities, and the life support services may also be exposed to seasonal change or shocks.

A shared framework for material, energy and content flow accounting supports the selecting, conceptualizing, and measuring of an unlimited set of flows as part of a diverse range of human economic activities and their interactions with the natural environment.

Ens and Entelechy

The ens is a being in its most general sense.

A broad concept of ens builds upon:

  • abstracting1 - for the socio-technical design-engineer - the distinction between animate and non-animate, human and non-human;
  • a general notion of entelechy2; and
  • support for punctualisation and depunctualisation during the discourse between innovators and stakeholders with respect to a particular worksystem (actor network) that needs innovation3.

Economics' Scope

Neoclassical economics has had an emphasis upon monetary flows and exchange relations, with minimal interest being given to physical flows of resources within the economy, and between the economy and the natural environment. Over the past two decades the material basis of the economy has been given more attention as the sustainability of our practices has been questioned.

Material Flow Analysis contributes to improved understanding of the material basis to underpin the formulation of sustainable economic, trade, natural resource and environmental policies.

Poverty eradication is another global and persistent challenge. In addition to sustainability, capability and equity are two concepts with both "end and means" significance: "each is seen as good in itself, as and end; and each is also seen as a means to good ends, to the extent that it can support the others."4.

Knowledge economy considerations matter to the productive use of knowledge in the articulation and diffusion of good practices towards good goals: sustainability, equity and capability: development that is socially and environmentally sustainable.

Material Flow Analysis

Material flow analysis (MFA) covers any technique aimed at the physical quantification (usually in mass units) and “analysis of the throughput of process chains comprising the extraction or harvest, chemical transformation, manufacturing, consumption, recycling, and disposal of materials”5.

MFA has emerged as a primary methodological framework that offers great scope for generic application and the harmonization, integration, and advancement of environmental accounting and systems analysis tools.6

Resource Productivity

Natural resources and materials must be managed well and efficiently through their life cycle. This is key to economic growth, environmental quality and sustainable development.

Most OECD countries have already addressed the issue of efficient management and sustainable use of natural resources in their national sustainable development strategies or environmental plans. They have launched initiatives to promote waste prevention, sustainable materials management, and integrated product policies, 3R (Reduce, Re-use, Recycle) related policies, sustainable materials management, and circular economy approaches7,8.

Open and low-hurdle access to technology-related knowledge could become an important enabler for the diffusion of such initiatives.

Ontological Stratification

Ontological Stratification is the partitioning of the landscape and the entities in it into several disjoint spaces (or strata) according to the criteria used to identify and conceptualize the entities, and according to these entities' possible roles in interactions.

Reflecting the long-accepted distinctions between material, information and monentary flows in socio-economic interactions, we adopt the three strata: material, content (knowledge, data, concept, information) and monetary.

Implications for Resource Use

Implementing effective resource management policies and procedures requires good knowledge of: (i) the use, depletion and discovery of resources; (ii) the stocks and flows of resources; and (iii) technologies, recycling and substitution.

The different economic properties of material, content and monetary resources justify a dedicated look at each of the three strata.

The Monetary Actor Network

Monetary resources are addressed under Social Order, under the heading Financial Assets and Liabilities. As the monetary "actor network" has a long tradition, it is quite elaborate and mostly of high quality. Still governance issues exist in this area as was demonstrated by recent financial crises.
These are outside the focus of this dictionary.

Material Resources

Rivalry in consumption on the one hand, and the continuous existence of non-consumables and non-perishables are important properties.

These resources are addressed under two headings: Material and Produced Assets.
Produced Assets are evidently of great importance for industry and business. They are addressed under Produced Assets.

Though it has been neglected for quite some time, the improving the material exchange between the environment and humankind is receiving a growing interest.
The relevance of resource management to sustainability has been recognized. The material resources themselves are addressed under Material.

The actor networks concerned with material resource management are addressed under Techno Order.

Content Resources

In spite of the abundance of content resource the balance between instructive and consumptive content resources seems to be poorly defined. The content resources themselves are addressed under Content.

The actor networks concerned with content management for instructive and leisurely purposes are addressed under Social Order.

The actor networks concerned with content management for science and technology are addressed under Techno Order.

Resource Classification and Product Coding

There exist multiple resource classifications.

Further classifications of resources (in addition to those of the ontological stratification) exist within each resource stratum.

For a classification of financial assets, see the items included in the Monetary order.

WIPO provides the International Patent Classification, with details at: http://www.wipo.int/classifications/ipc/en/

For a coding of Products, see for instance: Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding Systems (HS)