Resource consumption

Natural resources like water, soil, clean air and mineral deposits provide the basis for our welfare. Studies show that these resources are vastly overused today. This pressure on natural resources could further intensify in future as the size of the economy and global population will continue to increase.

Environmental footprint

The use of natural resources significantly exceeds their regeneration capacity in many places. This applies to both raw materials, e.g. mineral deposits, and other natural resources like water, climate stability, biodiversity and clean air.

The ecological footprint, which takes factors like CO2 emissions and land use into account, clearly demonstrates this. According to this indicator, if all of the Earth's inhabitants had the same standard of living as the Swiss, the area covered by around three Earths would be needed to meet their requirements.

The FOEN tracks the development of consumption-based environmental impacts using a broader set of indicators which includes biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle, for example as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it contributes to the related international discussion.

Domestic consumption also generates environmental impacts abroad

The excessive consumption of resources is a burden on the environment. The following areas of consumption are mainly responsible for this:

  • Nutrition
  • Housing
  • Mobility

These account for around 70% of the current environmental impacts of Switzerland's consumption.

Improvements have been achieved in various areas in Switzerland, for example in relation to water pollution and air quality. However, given that a large proportion of the resources consumed here in Switzerland originate from abroad, the associated environmental impacts in other countries must also be included in the calculations.

According to a study published by the FOEN in 2014, over 70% of the total environmental impact generated through final domestic demand in Switzerland is generated abroad.

The ‘planetary boundaries' concept

The overuse of resources is pushing the environmental systems of the planet to the limits of their stability. The concept of planetary boundaries indicates exactly where this is happening and to what extent. It was developed at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, published as a study in 2009 and has already been integrated into the international climate policy objectives. The concept considers nine important biophysical processes of the Earth system, for which the transgression of defined boundaries would have grave consequences for humanity. These include, for example, climate change, biodiversity loss and biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorous losses).

Which approaches lead to a «1 planet economy»? A new «One Planet Approaches» report provides for the first time an overview on the growing number of approaches. It concludes with recommendations for companies, the research community, governments, and the civil society.

One Planet Approaches (PDF, 67 MB, 28.11.2017)Methodology Mapping and Pathways Forward. Supported by FOEN.

One Planet Approaches (PDF, 10 MB, 28.11.2017)Executive summary. Supported by FOEN.

The FOEN commissioned in 2015 a pilot study to assess the extent to which Switzerland's footprints are in line with the planetary boundaries. According to the findings of this study, Switzerland's climate and biodiversity footprints and those relating to ocean acidification and the nitrogen cycle have reached a critical level.

UNEP-Grid has now applied the method relating footprints to planetary boundaries, which was developed for Switzerland, to 48 countries and regions, covering the entire world.

Visions for a green economy – an invitation to participate in the debate

What form do future-proof systems in key areas of our everyday lives take? This report Zielbilder für eine planetenverträgliche, zukunftsfähige Schweiz (available in German) presents concrete visions for the areas: 

  • living,
  • mobility,
  • food. 

The presented visions are compatible with the planetary boundaries and based on the latest research. 

The aim of the report is to stimulate debate on possible solutions for future-proof and competitive products and services. The potential for innovation in these areas was identified by experts participating in the Swiss Resources Forum on 1 December 2016 (results: see Outcomes Report).

Measuring the progress achieved in the transition to a resource-conserving consumption and production

The transition to a resource-efficient economy is a long-term and continuous process. Comprehensive measurement of the progress achieved by the implemented measures is needed to establish whether Switzerland is developing in the desired direction.

The progress measurement is based on a range of complementary information. This includes, for example:

  • Footprint indicators: These indicators can be used to demonstrate the environmental impacts and resource consumption generated by Swiss final demand at global level in a range of domains.
  • Current areas of the green economy: To facilitate progress measurement on a concrete level, individual sectors like consumption, production and the circular economy are analysed separately. The FOEN's environmental indicators provide a helpful tool in this context.
  • Resource efficiency: Conclusions can be drawn about resource efficiency by correlating the data on economic performance (GDP, final demand) with the environmental indicators.
  • Private and state involvement at domestic and international levels: The inclusion of the environmentally-relevant financial flows into Switzerland's national accounts provides economic information about the environment, on the one hand, and important environmental information for the economy, on the other.

Report: "Green Economy: Indicators measuring the progress"

The progress achieved in the improvement of resource efficiency and the long-term reduction of resource consumption to a level that can be sustained by nature should be quantified and assessed on a regular basis.

This report uses indicators to demonstrate the progress attained by Switzerland in the direction of resource-conserving consumption and production. It contains a set of green economy indicators incorporating eight indicators and a comprehensive indicator set based on the OECD's green growth indicators.

Resource efficiency increased in recent years. The environmental impacts generated by consumption both within Switzerland and abroad can be shown using footprint indicators. Comparing the performance of the economy (GDP) or the final consumption with footprints reveals their efficiency, which shows an increase in the last years.  However, due to increasing consumption, footprint indicators remain high and continue to increase in some of the key environmental sectors like climate and biodiversity. In these areas, a relative but not absolute decoupling of economic growth and resource consumption has been achieved.

Environmental Targets of Companies in Switzerland

Companies in Switzerland are proactive when it comes to more sustainable business operations. The “Environmental Targets of Companies in Switzerland” study identifies the environmental targets that are currently published by Swiss companies and the areas of action that they address. It discusses the quality of the targets and identifies the hindering yet potentially beneficial factors in formulating targets in general and targeted impacts in particular.

The study, which was guided by Swissmem, Scienceindustries, öbu and WWF and carried out by the FHNW in collaboration with the ZHAW Center for Corporate Responsibility, reveals that 88 of the 500 largest Swiss companies set and publish environmental targets. 70% of the companies set in-house targets, such as in the areas of energy and greenhouse gases. Around one-fourth of the environmental targets deal with the supply chain or consumers. Approximately 3% of the environmental targets refer to the entire value chain.

Thus, current environmental targets concern not only corporate processes, but also materials, suppliers, products and services. In general, the studied companies set SMART targets.

Overuse of resources has negative economic impacts

The overuse of resources not only has negative consequences for the environment, for example through soil sealing or the pollution of water bodies, but also for the economy, which relies on a secure supply of raw materials. Because the predicted population and economic growth will further intensify this effect, a significant increase in the efficient use of existing resources is essential. This will strengthen Switzerland's competitiveness and security of supply.

Further information

Last modification 08.01.2018

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