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

In many places, the utilisation of natural resources significantly exceeds their capacity for regeneration, i.e. their critical thresholds. This applies to both raw materials, e.g. mineral deposits, and other natural resources like water, climate stability, biodiversity and clean air.

Footprint indicators show the environmental impact associated with domestic consumer demand: greenhouse gas emissions and also, for example, biodiversity or the nitrogen cycle.

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 almost two thirds 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 used to meet consumer demand here in Switzerland originates from abroad, the associated environmental impacts in other countries must also be included in the calculations.

More than two thirds of the total environmental impact generated through final domestic demand in Switzerland is generated abroad.

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.

Environmental hotspots in the supply chain of Swiss companies 

Today's economy is highly interconnected, with many supply chains stretching right around the globe. As a result, the environmental impacts associated with the production of goods are also felt worldwide. Indeed, such impacts are often greater in a company's supply chain than at its own operating base. 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 eight key Swiss industries:

  • meat processing
  • production of chemical products
  • production of machinery
  • real estate services and construction
  • health and social work
  • food trade
  • trade with clothing, textiles and footwear
  • trade with household devices

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. 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).

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.

Is Europe living within the limits of our planet?

An assessment of Europe's environmental footprints in relation to planetary boundaries. 2020

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, “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.
  • Resource conservation measures: 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 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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