Illumination as a material service: a comparison between Ancient Rome and early 19th century London

Kai Whiting*, Luis Gabriel Carmona, Lina Brand-Correa, Edward Simpson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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Specific combinations of energy flows, material flows and stocks are responsible for those services that support social metabolism. However, few researchers go beyond energy services to ascertain the role that materials play in socioeconomic development. In this paper, we develop the concept and accounting method for material services, which we define as “those functions that materials contribute to personal or societal activity with the purpose of obtaining or facilitating desired end goals or states, regardless of whether or not a material flow or stock is supplied by the market”. In this respect, material services act as an intermediate step that incorporates stock to bridge the gap between resource consumption, accumulation and aspects of wellbeing. We provide a material service case study, which identifies the level of lighting experienced by urban Ancient Romans relative to that enjoyed by inhabitants of 1820s London (the Georgians). Our results show that the average Roman experienced 41,102 lumen-hour, which is more lighting than the Georgian value per capita (at 35,698 lumen-hour). In terms of fuel consumption, Georgians were four times more efficient than their Roman counterparts, but there was a trade-off between materials and energy, given that stock efficiency was 53 times lower than that of the Romans. This trend of improving fuel efficiency at the expense of materials appears to have continued into the 21st century, which holds important implications for sustainable development. Further research needs to be undertaken to ascertain whether this holds true for other material services such as heating, transport and shelter.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106502
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Economics
Early online date13 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • MFA
  • Roman lighting
  • Georgian lighting
  • Energy services
  • Stock efficiency
  • Material efficiency
  • Sustainable materials


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