Resource consumption

Natural resources like water, soil, clean air and mineral deposits provide the basis for our quality of life. 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 FOEN tracks the development of consumption-based environmental impacts using a broad set of indicators, including biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. It also contributes to the related international discussion.

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

  • Food
  • 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 air quality and protection of inland waters and the ozone layer. 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.

About three quarters of the total environmental impact generated through final domestic demand in Switzerland is generated abroad.

Environmental Footprints of Switzerland

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Developments from 1996 to 2015. 2018

From a communications perspective, the “ecological footprint” calculated by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) is a valuable complement to FOEN’s environmental footprints. It takes into account CO2 emissions and land requirements. 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 ‘planetary boundaries' concept

The overuse of resources is pushing our planet’s environmental systems to the limits of their stability. The concept of planetary boundaries indicates where this is happening and to what extent. It was developed by an international research group led by Swedish scientist Johan Rockström and the American Will Steffen. Published as a study in 2009, it has already been integrated into 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 climate change, loss of biodiversity, and biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorous losses).

Which approaches lead to a “One Planet Economy”? A new report, “One Planet Approaches”, provides the first overview of the growing number of approaches, making 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.

In 2015 the FOEN commissioned 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 to make Switzerland fit for the future – an invitation to participate in the debate

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

  • housing,
  • mobility,
  • food.

 based on the current state of research. The aim is to stimulate discussion about solutions for future-proof and competitive products and services. The report is also a contribution to putting the international 2030 Agenda into practice (especially SDG 12: “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”).


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

Transitioning 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.

Measurement of progress is based on a range of complementary information. This includes:

  • 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 areas. Examples include the greenhouse gas, nitrogen and biodiversity footprints.
  • Current areas of the green economy: To facilitate measurement of progress at the 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 environmentally relevant financial flows into Switzerland’s national accounts provides both economic information about the environment and important environmental information for the economy.

Environmental Targets of Companies in Switzerland

Companies in Switzerland are proactive when it comes to making their business operations more sustainable. The study “Environmental Targets of Companies in Switzerland” identifies the environmental targets published by Swiss companies (quantitative dimension), and which environmental topics or fields of activity these targets address (qualitative dimension). The study also gives best practices in terms of formulating targets.

The study was guided by Swissmem, Scienceindustries, öbu and WWF and carried out by the FHNW in collaboration with the ZHAW Center for Corporate Responsibility. It reveals that 88 of the 500 largest Swiss companies set and publish environmental targets.

Many companies are already setting SMART targets. 70% of the companies set in-house targets, such as for energy and greenhouse gases. Around a quarter of the environmental targets relate to the supply chain or the consumer level. Approximately 3% of the environmental targets refer to the entire value chain.


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.

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Last modification 18.09.2018

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