Economy and Consumption: In Brief

Natural resource consumption is determined by production and consumption patterns. Of all areas involving consumption, nutrition, housing and mobility play a particularly prominent role in these processes in Switzerland. Extrapolated to the global population, such a consumption of natural resources significantly exceeds the level that can be sustained by nature many times over. Swiss companies have made considerable efforts to make their production activities more environmentally friendly. However, many production processes and the associated environmental impacts now occur abroad.


1. Demographic, economic and consumption trends (drivers)

In 2000, Switzerland had a population of 7.2 million: by 2016 it had grown by 17% to 8.4 million. Over the same period, the Swiss economy grew by 32% in real terms measured by the country’s GDP, and by 27% in real terms measured by public and private consumer spending (final demand). 

The consumption areas with the greatest impact on the environment are nutrition, housing and mobility: around two-thirds of the total environmental impact of Switzerland can be attributed to these sectors.

As far as production is concerned, the most environmentally sensitive sectors are food production, chemicals, energy and construction.

Service providers in the Swiss financial and raw materials sectors have a global influence on investments in environmentally sensitive production and extraction processes.

Digitisation and other technological advances offer significant potential for energy and resource efficiency. However, they can also fuel the demand for critical raw materials, such as rare earth elements for high-tech products, or create new consumer needs. 


2. High consumption of natural resources (pressures)

The sharp increase in production and consumption is associated with a high consumption of natural resources, as exemplified below:

  • Raw materials and energy for the production of consumer goods;
  • Land for housing needs and transport routes as well as for feed and food, inland and abroad;
  • Water for households, factories and agriculture.

The Swiss economy is constantly improving its resource efficiency by increasing the value added per material unit: Between 2000 and 2015, Switzerland's material footprint per capita shrank by around 6% to less than 17 tonnes. However, it is above the EU average of 14 tonnes per capita.

Another important factor relating to resource consumption is that many material cycles are not closed, and raw materials and products are not used sustainably.

With its current patterns of consumption and production, Switzerland uses natural resources to an extent that exceeds the earth's ability to regenerate them and the planetary boundaries. If all countries were to consume as much as Switzerland does, it would take almost three Earths to sustain such consumption.


3. Progress in Switzerland, high impact abroad (state)

Despite economic growth, the total environmental impact of the per-capita Swiss consumption fell by 19% between 1996 and 2015 (decoupling). It also fell in absolute terms but by only 6% as a result of population growth.

This reduction is partly due to domestic successes in areas such as air pollution control, protection of the ozone layer and water protection. Because most of our products and raw materials are imported, an increasing proportion of the environmental impacts generated by Swiss consumption arise abroad. In 2015, the impact abroad accounted for 73% of the total impact, compared with 58% in 1996.

The global impacts of Swiss consumption are primarily at the expense of the climate and biodiversity:

  • Switzerland’s per-capita greenhouse gas footprint remained relatively stable between 1996 and 2015 (-4%). In absolute terms, it increased by as much as 12%. Currently around 14 tonnes tonnes of CO2-equivalents per capita, it is well above the globally sustainable level, which scientific estimates place at 0.6 tonnes per capita for 2015.
  • Between 1996 and 2015, Switzerland‘s per-capita biodiversity footprint increased by around 14%. In absolute terms, it increased by as much as 34%. It exceeds the globally sustainable level approximately 4-fold. 

Despite the progress mentioned above, natural resources in Switzerland are also under pressure. The greatest challenges in our country are the following:

  • Soil use caused by expanding settlement areas and transport routes
  • Over-fertilisation of ecosystems with nitrogen compounds
  • Input of plant protection products in soil and water bodies
  • Climate change
  • Ever-growing quantities of waste causing Switzerland a loss of valuable resources

4. Consequences for the environment, economy and society (impacts)

The global overuse of natural resources is pushing the environmental systems of the planet to the limits of their capacity and even beyond. Once these boundaries are crossed, humanity is no longer in the safe operating space and runs the risk of adversely affecting ecosystems, the economy and society.

The impacts of the overuse of resources affect natural habitats and species diversity, although the economy and human health and well-being are also affected. We are all reliant on the conservation of natural resources and the long-term availability of raw materials and energy. Natural resources therefore constitute a central basis for the welfare of our society.

5. Green Economy (responses)

The report “Massnahmen des Bundes für eine ressourcenschonende, zukunftsfähige Schweiz (Grüne Wirtschaft)” (Federal Measures for a Resource-Conserving and Future-Proof Switzerland (“Green Economy”)), which was adopted by the Federal Council on 19 June 2020, contains information on the use of resources and the need for action, as well as a report on the federal measures between 2016 and 2019. The measures are grouped into three core areas:

  • consumption and production,
  • waste and raw materials, and
  • cross-cutting instruments.

The measures contribute to the overarching United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). The primary focus is on supporting the independent commitment of the targeted actors. Innovation, research and international cooperation are also important pillars of a green economy.

In order to support and promote the Swiss economy in reducing its negative environmental impact and increasing its positive environmental impact at home and abroad, eight actors from business, society, science and the public sector have teamed up to create the "Go for Impact" association on the initiative of the FOEN. The focus is primarily on raw materials and materials.

The FOEN also follows international developments closely, especially the Circular Economy Package adopted by the European Commission in December 2015.

These measures complement the existing policies for resource conservation (e.g. climate, biodiversity, forests, etc.). In future, the focus should be more on improving resource efficiency and promoting a circular economy. The Federal Council has asked the Administration to submit proposals for a package of measures for resource conservation and a circular economy by the end of 2022.

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Last modification 30.11.2020

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