Resource consumption

Natural resources like water, soil, clean air, mineral deposits and climate stability provide the basis for our quality of life. Studies show that these resources are currently vastly overused. This pressure on natural resources is likely to intensify in the future as the economic volume and global population continue to increase.

Environmental footprint

Despite gains in efficiency, Switzerland is still a long way from using resources sustainably. As a result of the rising global consumption of resources, climate stability and ecosystems worldwide are at their limit. With its high per-capita resource consumption, Switzerland is a large contributor to this problem.

The environmental impact of end consumption in Switzerland can be estimated on the basis of environmental footprints. These indicators take into account all environmental impacts in Switzerland and abroad that are caused by final demand in Switzerland. This includes the entire supply chain of consumed products, but not exports, as they meet demand in other countries.

Environmental footprints are calculated for greenhouse gas emissions, material use, water use, nitrogen surpluses, pressure on biodiversity and overall environmental impact. More than two thirds of the total environmental impact generated through final domestic demand in Switzerland is generated abroad.

The biggest factors are:

  • construction and living
  • agriculture and food
  • mobility


These areas account for almost two thirds of the current environmental impact of Switzerland’s consumption.

The Global Footprint Network's well-known ecological footprint is often used to visualise the high consumption of resources. It calculates in a single figure the forest area (theoretically) required to compensate for fossil CO2 emissions, direct land use and wild catches of fish and compares this with the world's biocapacity theoretically available per person. This shows whether and to what extent the exploitation of nature exceeds the regenerative capacity of the biosphere (biocapacity). 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. 

This indicator is not used as a fully comprehensive environmental indicator. It does not take into account fresh water consumption, biodiversity loss or the environmental impact of air pollutants, heavy metals and nitrogen. It also leads to an underestimation of the need for action and there is no reference to specific fields of action. Moreover, not every inhabitant of the earth has the same 'resources budget'; since the ecological footprint of a country or region is a comparison with the biocapacity of the country/region, an individual's footprint depends on the amount of available organic and prodcutive land in the country or region in which they live.

Environmental hotspots in the supply chain of Swiss companies 

Swiss companies' production for demand in Switzerland is included in the environmental footprints. As footprint indicators consider final consumption, the role played by consumers is central. However, the responsibility for reducing the environmental impact also lies with producers. One focus of the Federal Council's 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy thus concerns sustainable consumption and production. 

Today's economy is highly interconnected, with supply chains stretching right around the globe. As a result, the environmental impact of the production of goods is also felt around the world. Indeed, such impacts are often greater in a company's supply chain than at its own premises. There is therefore an increasing onus on businesses to think about their supply chains and to create transparency about impacts at upstream stages of the value chain.

To assist companies in this task, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), working closely with the private sector, carried out a study to identify environmental hotspots in the supply chains of the following eight key Swiss industries :

  • chemicals
  • machine engineering
  • real estate and construction
  • health and social work
  • food trade
  • meat processing
  • clothing, textiles and footwear trade
  • household devices trade


An Environmental Atlas of Swiss Supply Chains (Umweltatlas Lieferketten Schweiz) was then produced, setting out the study's findings in graphs and diagrams.

The results show the environmental impacts of each industry and its supply chain, from raw material extraction and processing at upstream stages through to direct suppliers. The calculations were based on an economic input-output model supplemented by environmental data. For each industry analysed, the Environmental Atlas gives an indication of roughly where an environmentally sustainable level compatible with planetary boundaries would lie. It also proposes steps that could be taken to design and optimise a sustainable supply chain.

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. Developed by an international research group led by Swedish scientist Johan Rockström and the American Will Steffen, it was published in 2009 and has already been integrated into international climate policy goals. The concept considers nine important biophysical processes of the Earth's system for which the transgression of defined boundaries would have grave consequences for humanity. At least four or these nine planetary boundaries are already being overshot – climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation and nitrogen and phosphorous use. Switzerland, with its high per-capita resource consumption, is contributing to this process. 

This report assesses selected environmental footprints for Europe based on the concept of planetary boundaries. It explores various approaches for allocating global limits to the European level. It explores various approaches to allocating global limits to the European level.

Is Europa living within the limits of our planet? (Summary) (PDF, 6 MB, 17.04.2020)An assessment of Europe’s environmental footprints in relation to planetary boundaries

Assessing Environmental Footprints on a Limited Planet (PDF, 10 MB, 16.04.2020)Study commissioned by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)

Which approaches lead to a One Planet Economy? A new report, entitled 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.

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

A number of different reports provide information on the impact of consumption and production methods, as well as the progress made:

  • Report on federal measures for resource conservation in Switzerland (green economy) 2020
  • Federal Council environmental reports: Umwelt Schweiz
  • Country report to the UN on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda


These reports use to an extent FOEN and FSO indicators.

There are also subject-specific measures of progress, such as national and internationl climate reporting.

Environmental Goals of Companies in Switzerland

What environmental goals do Swiss companies set themselves? Answers are provided by a study conducted on behalf of the FOEN by engageability in cooperation with the FHNW. 

For the Focused Reporting Benchmark 2021, 151 companies were analysed and the findings compared with the analyses from 2017 and 2019. The focus was placed on the companies' environmental goals and reporting. The study found that companies are not yet doing enough to meet the requirements of the 2030 Agenda. When setting environmental goals, they focus predominantly on company activities and too little on the value chain, although this is where the majority of the company's environmental impact occurs (cf. Environmental hotspots in the supply chain of Swiss companies, not available in English). Moreover, the goals relate primarily to the issue of climate; other relevant issues such as biodiversity, water and air pollution are neglected. The study also contains examples of best practices from companies in reporting and goal-setting.

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 18.10.2022

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