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Current consumption of natural resources is not sustainable. From a global perspective, we humans are behaving as though we had one and a half planets at our disposal. If all of the earth's inhabitants were to live like the Swiss population, we would need 2.8 earths to meet our resource requirements. This overuse of natural resources leads to, among other things, climate change, the loss of biodiversity and increasing soil scarcity. Hence, it is essential that natural resources be used more efficiently and sparingly, and that their consumption be reduced to a naturally sustainable level. This intention is receiving increasing support at national and international levels. The Federal Council passed the first measure for a green economy back in 2010. In June 2012, the green economy (see Fact Sheet 1) was placed on the global political agenda at the UN sustainability conference in Rio. Through the green economy, important new sales markets for resource-conserving technologies and products are opening up for Swiss businesses (see infobox).
At its meeting on 27 February 2013, the Federal Council decided to extend the measures for a resource-conserving approach to the economy and consumption in Switzerland and to adapt the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). It mandated the DETEC to prepare a parliamentary dispatch. The salient points of the planned revision of the EPA are:
Adopting the general direction of the "green economy" popular initiative
The Federal Council's planned revision of the Environmental Protection Act is an indirect counterproposal to the Green Party's popular initiative "For a sustainable and resource efficient economy (green economy)". The initiative, which was submitted on 6 September 2012, aims to establish a sustainable and resource-efficient economy, promote closed material cycles and ensure that economic activities do not impair the potential of natural resources through the inclusion of a new article in the Swiss Federal Constitution. Hence the aim of the initiative is to ensure that the economy and consumption in Switzerland are sustainable from 2050 and only use the amount of resources that can be produced by the earth (which would correspond to an ecological footprint of 1). The Federal Council welcomes the general direction of the initiative. However, it believes that it will not be possible to implement it by 2050, particularly due to the environmental impacts generated by the Swiss economy abroad. For this reason, it rejects the initiative and presents an indirect counterproposal with the aforementioned change in the environmental legislation. The objective here is the limited implementation of the concerns raised by the initiative in the framework of the Federal Constitution as it stands.
The DETEC has until early summer 2013 to develop a consultation document on the indirect counterproposal. It is expected that this document will be submitted for consultation in summer 2014. The dispatch on the initiative and the indirect counterproposal shall be referred to parliament by spring 2014.
With its high capacity for innovation, Switzerland can not only contribute to improving resource efficiency but, at the same time, create jobs, and generate income and prosperity. Important new sales markets for resource-conserving technologies and products are opening up to the Swiss economy. Such technologies can also generate considerable savings for Swiss companies. The consumption of materials accounts for around half of the cost of industrial production. According to a German study, companies can reduce their material costs by up to 20 percent by exploiting the potential for efficiency (Kristof 2010). The economy can only remain efficient and perform well if it has sufficient natural resources like metals and agricultural raw materials. Therefore ensuring the long-term availability of natural resources and reduction of supply risks is in the interest of the economy.
The importance of resource-conserving technologies (cleantech) for the Swiss economy was analysed in a study by Ernst Basler & Partner and Nowak (2009). According to this study, around 160,000 people were involved in the Swiss cleantech sector in 2008. With an estimated annual gross value added of between CHF 18 and 20 billion, cleantech contributes between around 3 and 3.5 percent of Switzerland's gross domestic product.
As has been confirmed by various international studies, the growth prospects for cleantech are considerable. In its study "Vision 2050", the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, 2010) estimates that the annual value of sectors with a strong environmental relevance like energy, agriculture, water etc. will increase globally to around USD 4,100 billion by the year 2050.
Roland Berger Strategy Consultants reached a similar conclusion, which is presented in the GreenTech made in Germany 3.0 Environmental Technology Atlas for Germany (BMU, 2012). They estimate that current market volume for the cleantech sector totals EUR 2,044 billion and expect annual growth rates of between 3 and 9 percent.
In the period 2000-2007, Swiss companies achieved most exports in the areas of waste management and resource efficiency (Fraunhofer ISI 2011). Further value added potential exists in these areas as illustrated by the following examples.
Recycling of raw materials, closed-loop economy
Recycling enables the creation of value from waste through the recovery of important secondary raw materials for production. Through the recycling of raw materials, numerous Swiss companies contribute to the economy's security of supply. For example, phosphorous is scarce but it is a central resource for agriculture and can be recovered from sewage sludge, among other things. Metals like iron and zinc can be recovered from residues from the combustion of municipal solid waste and industrial waste, and re-used, for example, in the production of steel and batteries. Around 30 kilogrammes of metals like iron, copper, zinc and gold are contained in one tonne of municipal solid waste.
Material efficiency in the construction sectorIn the construction sector, traditional building and insulating materials like concrete and polystyrene can be replaced by environmentally friendly renewable raw materials. New insulating materials from natural fibres can benefit from these growth markets. As a cheap yet robust and durable construction and general material, the use of the native resource wood is becoming more popular again, in particular in residential buildings. The Swiss building fabric constitutes our biggest raw materials depository. Swiss buildings and civil engineering structures contain around 2.3 billion tonnes of building materials, for example concrete, masonry, road rubble, wood and metals. The use of this raw materials depository increases material efficiency and makes the construction sector less dependent on primary raw materials.