Higher Resource Efficiency in Switzerland Means More Competitiveness

resource efficiency in SwitzerlandDübendorf, 25 October 2018 The Swiss population has a large ecological footprint: they emit too much carbon dioxide (CO2), pollute too much water and consume too much raw materials, according to a new report by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). If everyone consumed as much as the average Swiss person does, more than three planets would be needed to meet total demand for natural resources. Ways to reduce the impact of consumption and the opportunities this has for Switzerland has been the theme of this year’s edition of the Swiss Resources Forum, which took place on October 25 at Empa in Dübendorf. What is evident is that this cannot happen without the contribution of all stakeholders. Accordingly, the title of this year’s conference was “Science, business and cities together for more resource efficiency” and focused on resource efficiency in Switzerland.

“Environmental and efficiency technologies are the growth markets of the future”

“Low-resource countries such as Switzerland must become more resource efficient,” stressed Gunter Stephan – President of the Steering Committee of the National Research Programme “Sustainable Economy” (NRP 73). An economy that relies on resource efficiency will have advantages in future international competition because it is protected against the looming scarcity and rising costs of raw materials. “Environmental and efficiency technologies are the growth- and lead markets of the future,” says Stephan.

Xaver Edelmann – former member of the Empa Board of Directors and current vice president of the World Resources Forum (WRF) – formulates the big goal of the circular economy: “Wealth and economic growth must be decoupled from environmental degradation. To achieve this, however, it is not enough to simply increase the recycling rate of products and materials. The rethinking must begin much earlier: By the design of products and services – and in our needs.”

resource efficiency in SwitzerlandReduction in consumption and sufficiency are also catchwords that Jacky Gillmann – Chairman of the Board of the construction and real estate company Losinger Marazzi – is concerned with: Do we really need more than 45 square meters of living space per person – or are 30 enough, as was the case in the 1970s? Gillmann sees great potential in technological progress for saving resources in the construction sector, for example by improving the planning phase thanks to digital modelling as the Building Information Modelling (BIM) planning method or thanks to new production methods such as the 3D printing.

Michael Pöll of the Building Department of the City of Zurich impressively demonstrated what happens to resources that can be found in a building when this is dismantled: While most of the concrete, asphalt, gravel and steel scrap are nowadays recycled, plastics end up in incinerators. There is an enormous untapped potential here – but the devil is in the details: In buildings that are currently being demolished, plastics often contain substances that are banned nowadays – such as asbestos, lead and cadmium in PVC floor coverings and pipes, or the flame retardant Hexabromcyclododecan (HBCD) in insulating materials.

Catherine de Wolf from EPFL and Marco Grossmann from ecos – a sustainability consulting firm based in Basel – both focus on the topic of recycling management in cities. This is no coincidence, as cities are gigantic consumers of raw materials: more than three quarters of all resources and between 60 and 80% of energy are consumed in cities.

Recycling economy and post-fossil cities

resource efficiency in SwitzerlandIn the afternoon, three different workshops offered the opportunity to the participants to deepen knowledge and to discuss complex issues. The NRP 73 organized a workshop on “Circular economy in the construction industry”, where the participants discussed how and whether the idea of circular economy can be implemented in the construction industry – from an economic, ecological, organisational and political point of view. In a second workshop organized by Empa within the framework of NRP 73, the simulation game “Post-fossil Cities” showed how a city could function in the post-fossil age. Finally, a third workshop organized by Reffnet.ch was devoted to the topic of efficiency in companies in a practical context: What do efficient solutions in the materials and energy sectors look like? How can companies learn from each other?

A “Raw Materials Market” enabled visitors to discover through an interactive poster exhibition the diversity of Swiss initiatives and networks on resource efficiency in Switzerland that already exist today and are working towards a more ressource efficient society. By visiting the NEST Urban Mining and Recycling (UMAR) Unit, the participants had the opportunity to learn more about innovative solutions in the building sector.

The Swiss Resource Forum is an initiative of a broad group of organizations, including the WRF, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, Empa, the Swiss Academies of Art and Sciences a+, ecos, engageability, the “Entwicklungsfonds Seltene Metalle” ESM Foundation, the Swiss Network of Mineral Resources NEROS, NFP 73, the Swiss Network for Sustainable Management Öbu, Reffnet.ch, the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW, and the Swiss Association for Quality and Management Systems SQS. Its aim is to connect decision-makers in business and politics with professionals in the research and development sector, public administration and NGOs. The support of alliances between actors is intended to lead to innovative and effective solutions for efficiency and sufficiency of resource use of consumers, producers and the waste management industry.

resource efficiency in Switzerlandresource efficiency in SwitzerlandThe Swiss Resources Forum generated 1.9 t CO2. These emissions have been offset as part of the Climate Action Now Initiative of UNFCC.

This article is translated and adapted from an original article by Karin Weinmann (Empa).

Pictures by © Beat Geyer (Empa) and WRF staff

Find more conference photos HERE.