Total environmental impact of consumption
The indicator shows the impacts arising from Swiss consumption at home and abroad across all areas of the environment. Raw materials and energy are needed, for example, for the production of consumer goods, and settlements, transportation, and the cultivation of food and animal feed require land and water. While the overuse of resources in Switzerland is likely to affect the economic system and quality of life here in the medium to long term, it is already having severe impacts in other countries, for example due to the logging of forests, climate change and water scarcity.
The total environmental impact is recorded on the basis of eco-points (PIA, see Method).
Between 1996 and 2015, the total environmental impact footprint fell by 19% (with annual fluctuations) from 29.0 million to 23.4 million eco-points per capita. However, with a 17% increase in population during this period, the actual fall is much lower (6%). As we import a lot of products, the environmental impact is primarily felt abroad. Around three-quarters of our environmental impact in 2015 was outside Switzerland.
As the production and consumption of goods and services has an impact on the environment, we might expect the total impact to rise in line with domestic final demand. But this is not the case. While final demand in Switzerland has increased by 32%, its environmental impact has actually fallen. Hence, a decoupling between prosperity and total environmental impact has taken place. In other words, the consumption-related total environmental efficiency has improved.
The current trend is particularly due to successful efforts in Switzerland to control air pollution and protect the ozone layer, with legal requirements and technological developments playing a key role. A larger market share of environmentally friendly goods and services may also have had a positive effect.
The current total environmental impact is at least three times the threshold for the sustainable use of resources. This threshold is 6.8 million eco-points per capita in 2030 (Frischknecht et al., 2018). The figures used for the underlying calculation are based on the planetary boundaries, Swiss environmental policy targets, and an extrapolation to global consumption.
The decrease in total environmental impact up to now is still significantly above the necessary reduction path, and the progress made to date does not include all areas of the environment. The status is therefore assessed as negative, and the trend as unsatisfactory.
- Related indicators
- Ecological footprint per capita
The indicator in eco-points is quantified on the basis of Switzerland’s environmental policy targets. Hence there is no international comparison. The approach has been adopted in the scientific debate in other countries like Germany and Japan.
Method for aggregating different types of environmental impact: In order to record and evaluate the total impact across all environmental factors such as emissions in the air and water, heavy metals in the ground, consumption of raw materials, etc., methods are required that are also capable of expressing environmental impacts as a figure. This example uses the ecological scarcity method – also known as the UBP method. This method expresses all environmental impacts in the unit of eco-points (Umweltbelastungspunkte, UBP). In the UBP method, the various environmental impacts are weighted according to the distance of the current environmental situation (emissions and demand on resources) to the existing targets of a country or region using eco-factors (“distance-to-target approach”). In Switzerland, the UBP method is geared towards Switzerland’s environmental goals and international environmental goals supported by Switzerland, which are in turn based on scientific knowledge. The further a current pollutant emission is from the target, the greater the significance of its environmental impact within the overall balance. However, the true extent of the environmental impact ultimately depends on the quantity of pollutants emitted. The emitted quantity is therefore multiplied with the eco-factor of the emission.
Footprint perspective method: When modelling the environmental impact caused by our consumption, consideration is given to the entire value chain for all goods and services consumed, i.e. the extraction, production and transportation, etc., right up to their use and disposal. In addition to the resources used and emissions produced in Switzerland, the pressure on the environment in other countries is also taken into account. The environmental impact caused by export goods is deducted, as this is not included in domestic consumption. This is in line with the system boundaries of the footprint or consumption perspective.
It is based on a combination of emissions, trade and lifecycle analysis data, with the latter now being used regionalised for loss of biodiversity and freshwater abstraction. The underlying calculation comes from the publication Environmental Footprints of Switzerland.
Comparison with the “ecological footprint”: This indicator is related to, but should not be confused with, the “ecological footprint” as defined by the Global Footprint Network. From the point of view of consumption, this indicator consolidates direct land use, wild-caught fish, and the areas of forest (theoretically) required to offset fossil carbon emissions into one figure. The ecological footprint is not a comprehensive environmental indicator. It does not take account of consumption of fresh water and other renewable and non-renewable natural resources, the loss of biodiversity or the environmental impact of air pollutants, heavy metals, nitrogen and persistent pollutants. Its main benefits are clear communication and widespread recognition. As a projection, Switzerland’s ecological footprint exceeds its global biocapacity by around three times. Despite major methodical differences, the resulting need for action is similar to that produced by the UBP method.