"Services" - and the transition to a services-based society - are frequently advanced as a way to make our economies more environmentally-friendly or sustainable. It is also being put forward to counter the demand to stop economic growth and to reduce the size our resource-depleting econonomy, i.e. to reduce our GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Services are far from being immaterial and many services are very resource-intensive indeed.
Services are "immaterial" only in the sense that the buyer does not become the owner of the product, such as education, advice, transportation, television, utilities, etc.
For example: Using a car that I own, or one that I rented, both cost the same amount of resources for production.
Since renting is more expensive than buying, the rented car (a "service") arguably even has higher environmental impact for its operation. The rental costs include the infrastructure costs of the rental company - which a private owner does not have.
Buying a service always means consuming resources - even if one only takes music lessons - through the equipment that is needed. Two music lessons takes twice the amount of working space and musical instruments. More lessons increase the GDP. But if lessons are taken in stead of producing cars, this will decrease the GDP, because less materials' thoughput is required for music lessons
Therefore the people (and economists) who are claiming that we can continue to grow because we are moving to a service economy, which would thereby dematerialise and reduce our human pressure on the environment, are deluding and misleading the public.
Some economists dispute the definition of services, claiming that they don't count transportation etc. to this group. This is a cheap and faulty excuse - to avoid admitting that the transition to services does not reduce our environmental impact.
(The WTO gives a convolute "definition" of services:)
It suffices to know that the only difference between services and normnal goods is that the buyer does not become the owner of the product that is used.
DIENSTLEISTUNGEN (Quelle: www.dpma.de/formulare/w7733.doc 04.08.2007)