Using the development of the building stock and physical infrastructure as an example, this article highlights the difficulties in combining continuous economic growth in wealthy countries with the requirements of environmentally sustainable development. There are clear limits as to how far we can get by means of eco-efficiency, and the effect of a transition to less environmentally harmful types of consumption is not sufficient if the consumption volume keeps on increasing. This is particularly evident for societal processes such as the construction of buildings and the development of physical infrastructure. Increased consumption is both a result of and a precondition for economic growth. The development of the building stock and physical infrastructure in cities is a case showing that economic growth - at any rate, in the longer term - can hardly be consistent with the preservation of species, ecosystems and food-production resources. The growth in the building stock also makes it increasingly difficult to limit energy use and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.