Revisiting Jevons’ Paradox with System Dynamics: Systemic Causes and Potential Cures

R. Freeman, M. Yearworth, C. Preist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
336 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines the dynamic relationship between the consumption of goods and services, technological efficiency, and associated resource use, as described by the theory of Jevons’ Paradox. A theory is presented about what causes Jevons’ Paradox, in which resource efficiency savings are eventually overtaken by increases in consumption to produce a net increase in resource use and therefore Environmental Impacts. An application of the theory was carried out using system dynamics, modeling CO2e emissions from private road transport in the UK between 1970 and 2010. The model results indicate the approximate impact of Jevons’ Paradox within the historical period: a rise in travel consumption of about a half and a rise in CO2e emissions of about a third. The model was used to estimate whether the EU goal of a 40% drop in CO2e emissions by 2030 is achievable in the road transport sector, by adding interventions, and the results indicate that higher increases in fleet efficiency than are currently forecast, costlier travel, and a reduction in travel consumption would all be required. The theory and model presented in this paper highlight the need to implement a system of interventions that can influence the strength and direction of each of the feedback loops within the system being intervened with, if CO2e emissions are to be more reliably reduced than they are at present. And because the system is constantly evolving, intervening with it requires a responsive and holistic approach, while maintaining focus on a long-term goal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • Jevons’ Paradox
  • eco-efficiency
  • consumption
  • CO2e emissions
  • system dynamics


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