Switzerland has attained a high level of prosperity. It can sustain this prosperity if it reduces its resource use. The economy has already done this in recent years: it has begun to decouple its growth from the increase in resource use. Qualitative growth creates future prosperity.
The same applies to consumption. It is not an end in itself. The quality of life can continue to improve even with a downward trend in resource use. Qualitative growth can replace the quantitative consumption growth, which involves us consuming more and more. Quality of life does not depend on the volume of resources we consume but, above all, on the way in which we consume them.
So it makes sense to be aware about our consumption habits. What kind of footprint do my family and I make in relation to food? How much resources does my and our way of life consume? How much mobility do we avail of? Footprint calculators can help, and taking a break from resource consumption would be a first step in the right direction. In many areas, real progress can be achieved through small changes at everyday level. Replacing a broken light bulb with an energy-saving bulb does not amount to much cost in the weekly shopping basket, however it generates reliable energy savings for years.
Manufacturers already offer a lot of tools and support for the many small consumer decisions we make. These range from the organic labels for vegetables and meat and MSC label for fish in the supermarkets to the energy label on household electrical devices, the FSC label for wood products and the specification of CO2 emissions for new cars. Shopping with environmental awareness is easier to today.
The old maxim applies here: quality over quantity. Sometimes, the better product is more expensive but it lasts longer and, ideally, can even be repaired. Products manufactured in Switzerland often cost a bit more but the added value remains in the country. This benefits everyone indirectly.
Some forms of resource-conserving consumption are already ‘in’. When it becomes fashionable again to live in the cities, urban sprawl slows down. When the new smart phone is more important than your first car, fewer valuable resources are consumed. The yoga retreat in the Alps can also be less resource-intensive than a beach holiday on the other side of the globe. And Home Office Day helps you to balance work and family life.
Resource-conserving consumption requires social dialogue. Many consumption decisions also depend on the prevailing conditions and supply. It is up to every citizen in every single commune and region to decide what kind of public transport they want. This, in turn, influences consumers in their decision as to whether they dispense with their own car. And, again, consumer demand challenges producers to put resource-conserving products and services on the market. Accordingly, a good supply of organic and regional products can be found in supermarkets today.
Consumers have considerable leverage. They decide which products will succeed. A good example here is the success of electric bicycles, for example Flyers, which generate a clear ecological benefit when they help in the avoidance of car journeys. This form of mobility gained in momentum in the middle of the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 and is now well established. Another example is the Minergie standard: this was developed as a standard for energy efficiency pioneers and has now become one of the most successful voluntary standards in the area of building efficiency in the world.
The leverage extends far beyond Switzerland. The majority of the products we consume here are produced globally. The demands of Swiss consumers are taken into account in the production processes carried out in the manufacturing countries. When the Swiss retail group Coop joins a retail alliance that requires its suppliers to comply with a minimum of fair working conditions, this changes long-term living conditions in often very poor manufacturing countries.
Qualitative growth means organising your own consumption habits to ensure that they are compatible with what nature can provide in the long term. Resource-conserving consumption requires that we keep an eye on the way in which we consume resources. This is the only way that we can guarantee and improve our quality of life in the long term. As consumers we decide whether our consumption habits cause damage to nature. Switzerland is a country worth living in. And it should remain so for the generations to come.