Efficiency and sufficiency – with each other not against each other

Efficient production and sustainable consumption are essential to reduce environmental impacts to an acceptable level.

By Niels Jungbluth, 18.11.2015

Portrait Niels Jungbluth

Niels Jungbluth is an environmental engineer. He completed a doctorate on the topic of life-cycle assessments at the ETH Zurich. He is CEO of the company ESU-services GmbH in Zurich, which has been providing consultancy and software for environmental management since 1998. His work mainly focuses on the topics of food, biomass, energy systems, input-output analyses and ecological lifestyles. Niels Jungbluth is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. He has written numerous articles and reports and held lectures on the topic of life-cycle assessments.

A substantial reduction in environmental impacts is necessary to prevent the further destruction of essential life resources throughout the world. Around 60 percent of the environmental impacts generated by Swiss people today arise abroad. For this reason it is important to consider the entire life cycle of the goods and services we consume so that the current ecological footprint can be reduced by more than half, thereby ensuring that we are no longer living at the cost of future generations.

All private and economic actors can contribute to achieving this. Economic actors can start by increasing the environmental and energy efficiency of their production processes. The majority of Swiss companies are already reducing the direct environmental impacts they generate today. The impacts caused by the acquisition of fuels, transport and pre-production processes are also being analysed and optimised. These efforts have resulted in a reduction in the environmental impacts generated annually in Switzerland. However, this positive development is balanced out by increasing imports. Thus, overall, the environmental impacts generated by Switzerland have remained more or less constant over the last 15 years.

Efficiency measures alone are not enough to reduce the overall environmental impacts to an acceptable level. Because consumption is constantly increasing, it is essential that we consider how much consumption and what kind is acceptable from an environmental perspective. A huge number of behavioural tips for environmentally-aware consumption are available now.

The prioritisation of measures is hugely beneficial for both private and economic actors. For example, does it really make sense to drive to the waste-glass collection point, ban plastic bags or refrain from eating chocolate? Life-cycle assessments also help us to identify the greatest potential for measures to reduce impacts in these areas.

Closed minds and prejudices have no place in this process. All possible options for the reduction of environmental impacts should be compared using comparable yardsticks. It is important that the analyses consider all kinds of environmental impacts along the entire life cycle. This is the only way that we can identify the measures that offer relevant potential for reducing environmental impacts.

With regard to food – the most important area of consumption from an environmental perspective – it is crucial that we reduce meat consumption. However, this is not enough on its own. Other measures can also make important contribution to the reduction of environmental impacts in this area: for example, reducing the consumption of products that are unhealthy – particularly when consumed in excess (e.g. alcohol and sweets), the avoidance of food waste and overconsumption, and the consumption of a greater proportion of organic products. However, our studies also show that refraining from the use of plastic bags or consumption of mineral water can only make a comparatively small contribution to reducing environmental impacts.

Economic actors can approach these requirements proactively or oppose them through lobbying. Major Swiss concerns, for example the Swiss catering concern SV Group, have identified the potential offered by the early adoption of a new way of thinking and adaptation to the measures required from an environmental perspective. The knee-jerk rejection of studies that provide well-founded and critical information about products in individual economic sectors is not expedient here. It would be more effective to carry out honest analyses on areas, in which concrete measures can be implemented within the actors’ own sphere of influence, and to implement such measures.

Together we can do it. Environmental policy today is no longer about how a single measure or easy solution can save the world. Instead, all actors – both producers and consumers – must take action to reduce the overall impacts of their activities. From an economic perspective, there will be winners and losers here. But even companies that see themselves as being more on the losing side at present have it in their power to think outside the box. Efficiency and sufficiency are strategies that can only promise success in reducing overall environmental impacts to an acceptable level if they are implemented together.


Editor's note: Individual contributions may reflect an author's personal perspective. Over time, the spectrum of political views will be reflected in the variety of the contributions published. Editorial principles  


Ruedi Müller, Untersiggenthal

Es mag zutreffen, was Herr Jungblut über den Mineralwasserkonsum aussagt, trotzdem finde ich den jährlichen Konsum von fast 1Mio Tonnen Flaschenwasser bedenklich, wo wir auf der andern Seite über ausgezeichnetes Trinkwasser verfügen. Der Transportaufwand vergrössert sich, infolge mehr Importwasser, der Material- und vor allem Energieaufwand für die PET Flaschen ist auch nicht vernachlässigbar, trotz PET Recycling.

Robert Hofer, Langnau

Sabotage durch Marktmacht Ressourcen werden im technischen Bereich bewusst und gesteuert verschwendet, indem Anbieter proaktiv funktionierende Technologie unbenutzbar macht. Beispiel Whatsapp: die Firma hat per 1.1.2017 alle Blackberry und Windows 7.x Geräte ausgesperrt, d.h. auf diesen Geräten funktioniert der Whatsappdienst nicht mehr. Am 31.12.2016 aber funktionierten sie noch. Die sind also nicht "defekt" gegangen, sondern sie wurde vom Konzern eigentlich "sabotiert". Das mag lächerlich klingen, aber dieser Aspekt der Macht von Anbietern sollte auch politisch mal untersucht werden. Vielleicht müssen Anbieter, die über monopolartige Macht verfügen, gezwungen werden, ihre Produkte weiter zu pflegen. Dies muss ja nicht kostenlos erfolgen.

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