Natural resources are everywhere: in all the things surrounding us and the products we consume. It will take great care and intelligent resource management to preserve them, to reduce their use and consumption for the protection of the environment and the needs of future generations. To this end, the political realm is as important as the economy and households.
On 8 August 2016 – which marked that year's "Earth Overshoot Day" – humanity had already consumed the total amount of resources that could be regenerated over the course of the entire year. After that day, we lived at the expense of the natural environment and the ecosystem services that are the basis of our economies and our well-being. If we want to reverse this trend of over-exploitation, we need eco-innovations, eco-intelligent and resource-efficient economic systems, products, services and lifestyles. The potential for increasing resource and energy efficiency is enormous. In Germany, for instance, we consume 33 to 40 tons of resources per person and year. Eight tons per person and year is generally considered sustainable. To move towards an 8-ton-society, the issue of resource efficiency, sufficiency and consistency, will need to move to the center of the debate. That way, room will also be made for those countries currently using less than those eight tons.
Since western lifestyles are spreading rapidly – especially in the quickly emerging economies – the pressure on resources is rising. The hunger for resources and the growing scarcity of some raw materials have become causes of conflict, migration, environmental degradation and intolerable labour conditions in the globalized economy.
The actual resource use of our economy can only be estimated if the systemic boundaries are set correctly, and the material flows associated with our economic processes are analysed comprehensively. It is increasingly true that our resource expenditure is transferred into other countries through the import of (partly) finished goods. The primary resource use of those goods is often ignored.
But going further, the resource footprint of households, of the production of goods and the provision of services, even of events like the Olympic Games, can be calculated. It is essential that the whole life cycle from resource extraction, recycling, production and use to waste treatment is considered, covering the entire supply chain and capturing potential ecological and social conflicts. The Wuppertal Institute has pioneered methods to do just that.
In everyday life it is often difficult to reduce ones resource consumption. Our resource calculator provides some support. To reach the sustainable volume of eight tons per person and year in the long run, a massive dematerialisation of the economy will be necessary. Products will need to be lighter on resources and be used in a smarter way. Often this is a question of product design. This is why we look how the design process can be adjusted to lead to sustainable use.
Political support and the spreading of information is key to reducing resource demand. As part of the German Sustainabilty Strategy, the German federal government is aiming to double resource productivity between 1994 and 2020. The German resource efficiency program (ProgRess) is supposed to take indirect resource expenditures from imports as well as primary extraction – utilized or not (e.g. the overburden from brown coal mining) – into account. We have worked on proposals on how to do so.
The transformation towards a circular economy is an important structural piece of resource protection. It is being pushed politically and it is driving entrepreneurship. To further support it, the Wuppertal Institute is proposing innovative business models at the intersection of production, consumption and waste management.
To transform Europe into a competitive, sustainable and resource efficient economy will mean significantly reducing resource consumption, closing loops in material flows and reducing waste as much as possible – all without simply exporting environmental damages to the rest of the world.
Read more on our research on resources:
Here you find up-to-date information on research findings and activities in the field of resources.
You find all scientific publications on our publication server:
Research in the field of resources takes place in the context of policy as well as in the context of production an consumption. Here you find selected sample projects.