Natural resources are everywhere. Mindfulness and intelligent resource management are required to preserve them and reduce use and consumption to protect the environment and future generations. To this end, policy is as important as the economy and households.

On 29 July 2021 – which marked the year's "Earth Overshoot Day" – humanity had already consumed as many natural resources as the earth can regenerate over the course of an entire year. From that day on, people were living and operating at the expense of ecosystem services that are the basis of our economies and our prosperity. To avoid this, we need multiple eco-innovations, eco-intelligent and resource-efficient economic systems, products, services, and lifestyles. The growth markets for resource and energy efficiency are enormous.

To move towards a climate-neutral and resource-light society, the issues of resource efficiency, sufficiency, and consistency will need to become central to the debate. At the same time, these efforts provide new development opportunities for companies and countries.

Raw material mining
To preserve natural resources, mindfulness is required to reduce usage and consumption – for the protection of the environment, for social justice, and for future generations.

As the demand for products such as refrigerators, washing machines and laptops increases with the economic development of countries – especially in rapidly developing economies – this also increases the pressure on resources and leads to further shortages of individual raw materials, which in a globalised world economy are often the cause of conflicts, migration, environmental degradation, and intolerable working conditions. This makes it all the more important to develop infrastructures, products and services that are resource-efficient and as accessible as possible to the general population. To achieve this, resource consumption and prosperity must be decoupled from each other, creating minimum demand for resources and maximum quality of life and prosperity. In order to reconcile climate and resource goals with social balance – as also pursued by Agenda 2030 – sustainable technologies, economic models, consumption patterns, and institutions must be intelligently linked.

Step 1: Calculate Resource Use

The actual resource consumption of the national or European economy can only be estimated if the systemic boundaries are set correctly and the material flows associated with our economic processes are analysed comprehensively. This is because resource expenditures are increasingly transferred abroad through the import of partly finished and finished goods. The associated primary material expenditures are often ignored. And even in the energy-intensive basic materials industry, infrastructure, and buildings, the energy and resource turnover of all basic materials must be taken into account

The resource footprints of households, the production of goods, and the provision of services such as events also play a role and can be calculated. It is essential that the entire life cycle is considered and potential ecological and social conflicts are disclosed. To this end, the life cycle must be recorded from the source of raw materials, i.e. raw material extraction from nature or from recycling to production and use, to waste treatment, and the resulting emissions. The Wuppertal Institute is developing methods for this purpose and putting them into practice at the Circular Economy Division's Circular Systems Research Unit.

In everyday life, it is often difficult to live in a way that significantly reduces resource consumption. The Wuppertal Institute's resource calculator and the "SUSLA - Sustainable Lifestyles Accelerator" app developed in a project consortium provide some guidance. To reach the sustainable level of a climate-neutral and resource-light society in the long run, a massive "dematerialisation" of the economy will be necessary so that products become "lighter" and can be used longer and better. This is often a question of product design. How to design products that lead to sustainable usage is also being researched at the Wuppertal Institute. This results, among other things, in guidelines such as the Transition Design Guide.

Step 2: Develop and Implement Policies and Business Models

Political support and education are key to reducing resource demand. As part of the German Sustainability Strategy, the German federal government aims to continue the positive trend in overall raw material productivity of 1.6 per cent annually until 2030. From 2020 to 2030, this corresponds to an increase of around 17 per cent.

The German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) has also included secondary raw material consumption. The latter takes into account both the domestically utilised extraction of primary materials and indirect resource expenditure from imports. Consideration of unused extraction – also called "overburden" – remains politically and methodologically unresolved. The Wuppertal Institute has accompanied the further development of ProgRess III and is working on proposals for future development in various projects.

A structurally important role is played by the transformation towards a circular economy, which is being pushed politically and is also attracting corporate activity. To further support this strategy, innovative business models at the intersection of production, consumption and waste management are one of the key strategies. The researchers at the Circular Economy Division's Circular Transitions Research Unit are working on new concepts to this end.

Manuel Bickel

Transforming Europe into a more competitive, sustainable, and resource-efficient economy will mean significantly reducing resource consumption, closing material cycles, and reducing waste as much as possible – without simply exporting pollution to other parts of the world.

Dr. Manuel Bickel
Co-Head of Research Unit Production and Consumption Systems


Read more on our research on resources:


Here you find up-to-date information on research findings and activities in the field of resources.


Research in the field of resources takes place in the context of policy as well as in the context of production an consumption. In the following you find selected sample projects. A complete list is available here.

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