Ecocity Insights

Urban Metabolisms and Embodied Energy and Material Flows

Urban Metabolism diagrams for Metro Vancouver.
L-r, Ecological Footprint, Energy, Transportation. Credit: Graphical Memes
Written by Jennie Moore

Communities that are concerned with ecological sustainability can use “urban metabolism” studies as a way to understand how much energy and materials are flowing through a neighbourhood, the city, or even the whole metropolitan region. These flows provide important information about how much energy is being used in daily activities of residents and municipal operations. For example energy used in buildings for heating and lighting, or in fuel to support transportation of goods or people on public transit or in privately owned cars. An urban metabolism can also track how much water is being consumed and by whom. It can also be used to identify the types of materials such as paper, textiles, clothing, that is passing through the city and ultimately ending up as wastes or being recycled and repurposed or composted. Comparing the amount of energy and materials a city consumes to the amount of energy and materials a bioregion can provide helps indicate whether a city is existing in balance with nature.

However, did you know that there are is an additional flow of hidden or embodied energy and materials that are also associated with the flows tracked in an urban metabolism? These are the resources that are used outside of a city to manufacture the products that are then imported into the city and that get consumed therein. Often the energy and materials used outside the city to create exceed what actually passes through a city. Paying attention to the embodied energy and materials in buildings and automobiles, consumer goods and food is an important part of understanding our impact on Earth and how we create cities in balance with nature.

About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.


  • Hi
    What a Interesting article
    I have question, i would like to know what is the process to make this kind of schemes.
    Greetings from Colombia.