The degradation of elastic stiffness is investigated systematically within the framework of continuum damage mechanics. Consistent equations are obtained showing how the degradation of elastic stiffness can be decomposed into a part due to cracks and another part due to voids. For this purpose, the hypothesis of elastic energy equivalence of order n is utilized. In addition, it is shown that the hypothesis of elastic strain equivalence is obtained as a special case of the hypothesis of elastic energy equivalence of order n. In the first part of this work, the formulation is scalar and applies to the one-dimensional case. The tensorial formulation for the decomposition is also presented that is applicable to general states of deformation and damage. In this general case, one cannot obtain a single explicit tensorial decomposition equation for elastic stiffness degradation. Instead, one obtains an implicit system of three tensorial decomposition equations (called the tensorial decomposition system). Finally, solution of the tensorial decomposition system is illustrated in detail for the special case of plane stress.