Conserving resources as a response to megatrends. Current megatrends that present us with societal and ecological challenges include the growing global population, demographic change, urbanisation, digitisation and automation, and changing dietary habits. The question arises as to how we can live good lives and be economically successful without over-exploiting natural resources, for example in the form of climate change or the destruction of biodiversity.
Switzerland can provide effective responses to the megatrends in the area of resources. It has extensive experience in the conservation of natural resources. Whether it involves a the provision of a clean drinking-water supply and treatment of wastewater, the recycling of municipal solid waste or implementation of measures to combat air pollution, Switzerland has made great efforts to stem the side effects of industrialisation at national level. With the Federal Council’s Green Economy Action Plan, Switzerland transfers the principles that guided past generations to the modern economy. Switzerland can only live in prosperity if it respects the limits defined by nature, both at home and abroad.
The green economy is already a reality in many places. Behind every achievement in the area of environmental protection are companies that have developed the necessary technologies, products and services. Because the demand for environmental technology is growing strongly throughout the world, the resulting cleantech sector (Box 1) is one of the economic sectors with the strongest growth rates throughout the world.
Conserving and sparing resources reduces dependency on them. Around half of all materials used in Switzerland are imported from abroad. A large number of sectors are dependent on resources. They rely on unrestricted access to an entire series of raw materials for their highly specialised products. The conservation and sparing use of resources lowers costs and reduces the dependency on them. Products and services that contribute to the reduction of resource consumption can have a market advantage.
Keeping resources within the resource cycle pays off. The recycling of materials and the circular economy enable the better use of existing resources. Based on this, things that used to be classified as waste can become raw materials. This approach can be seen at work in the construction sector, for example. Through the re-use of gravel from excavated material, a valuable material can be obtained and bottlenecks can be avoided in the deposition of excavation material.
Waste also becomes a resource for metals. This is also evident from the processing of electronic waste. The disposal of this category of waste in Switzerland already works well. The amount of electronic waste disposed of in 2013 totalled 131,000 tonnes, which represents 16 kilograms per capita. The EU has set the target of recycling four kilograms per capita and year for its 28 Member States. The recovery of metals is worthwhile. For example, greater concentrations of gold are found in mobile telephones and computers than in gold mines. The Eberhard building materials company in Kloten in the canton of Zurich is among the pioneers in the recovery of metals from waste incineration plant slag.
Services can also contribute to increasing resource efficiency. The Swiss industrial engineering and manufacturing firm Sulzer extends the lifecycle of gas turbines by developing and manufacturing replacement parts which are compatible with original parts. This facilitates their maintenance and reduces the associated costs. Customers benefit from shorter maintenance times and, hence also, lower costs.
A green economy needs innovation – Switzerland has a winning hand here. With its network of universities, Federal Institutes of Technology, universities of applied science and other specialised research institutes, Switzerland has wide-ranging expertise on the use and management of natural resources. Instruments like the promotion of cooperation between universities and companies by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) ensure that research is closely coordinated with business needs. Through its environmental technology promotion, the FOEN supports the development of products, technologies and processes which reduce environmental impacts and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) promotes the development of innovative energy technologies and improvement of energy efficiency with its Leuchtturm (‘Lighthouse’), pilot and demonstration programme. Targeted initiatives by individual research institutes also facilitate the pooling of the strengths and resources of many research institutes.
The conservation and sparing use of our own resources strengthens Switzerland’s good reputation. Switzerland has long played an important role in the international efforts to protect nature and conserve natural resources. For example, the headquarters of several environmental conventions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red Lists of Threatened Species, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose assessment reports on climate change provide the scientific basis for international climate policy, are located here. Private organisations like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Club of Rome have also chosen Switzerland as their home – an endorsement of Switzerland and its reputation.
Switzerland’s good reputation pays off. Tourism is not the only sector that benefits from the fact that Switzerland is associated with an intact natural landscape and efficient infrastructure. Values like quality and precision and cleanliness and punctuality testify to the respect for both the environment and customers. These values are associated with Swiss products and services. They are among the strengths of the export-oriented economy. Hence Switzerland has a strong interest in maintaining its good reputation.