Resources are made

Conserve resources in the economy

Every year Earth Congestion Day is a reminder that people are using too many natural resources. By this day of the year, humanity has used up as many resources as nature can restore in a whole year. The organization Global Footprint Network calculates the "Earth Overshoot Day" using the ecological footprint. In 2018 and 2019 the earth overload was already reached on July 29th, in 2020 on August 22nd - as a result of the corona pandemic, the day has been postponed.

Earth Congestion Day underscores that humanity is consuming too many natural resources. Sustainable and economical consumption helps to save this. But it is also important to use resources as sparingly as possible during the production of goods and goods and to save in this way. This is what the term resource efficiency stands for. The focus is on the use of natural resources in economic production: the lower the required consumption, the higher the efficiency.

Germany has committed itself to more resource efficiency. In June 2020, the third German Resource Efficiency Program (ProgRess III) was passed by the federal government. It should help to achieve an economical use of raw materials. The German economy should not only use resources more efficiently, it should also make the supply of resources more crisis-proof. The corona pandemic has clearly shown how dependent the German economy is on resources from abroad. The supply was partially interrupted by the corona pandemic.

The consumption of resources is increasing: This has consequences

Natural resources are something like nature's treasures. They include raw materials such as coal, crude oil, various types of rock or ores. Likewise water, soil, air and also biological diversity. They can be divided into renewable raw materials, such as wood or vegetable oils, and non-renewable raw materials, such as crude oil, natural gas or metal ores.

The use of natural resources has been increasing worldwide for years: Since 1970, the use of primary materials (i.e. minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass) has more than tripled. From around 27 billion tons in 1970 to around 92 billion tons in 2017. If this trend continues, the world population will have increased to ten billion in 2060 and resource consumption is estimated to be between 143 and 190 billion tons.

But natural resources are priceless and of great economic importance to humans. Nature provides the resources free of charge, which can then be processed into valuable goods and goods. For this they must first be won. The extraction of non-regenerative raw materials, such as crude oil, coal or cobalt, is usually energy-intensive and involves considerable interventions in the natural and water balance. This usually also results in emissions of pollutants into water, soil and air. But the extraction or production of renewable resources also has an impact: Energy, material, space and, in some cases, chemicals are consumed. The cultivation of cotton, for example, is water-intensive; Forest plantations, on the other hand, consume large areas. Due to the naturally limited supply of these resources, there is therefore a responsibility towards the environment.

But not only the extraction and processing of natural resources has an impact on the environment, but also their use in the economy: For example, greenhouse gases are released during the production of goods. In addition, space is required for factories, but also for distribution or sales. Areas in the form of road infrastructure are also needed for transport. This has environmental impacts along the entire value chain. Even the recycling of products requires energy or resources. Or greenhouse gases and other pollutants are emitted when recycling waste.

According to estimates by the United Nations' International Resource Panels (IRP), around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are directly or indirectly attributable to the extraction and processing of fossil fuels, biomass, ores and minerals. This makes it clear that resource efficiency is an important contribution to meeting climate protection goals. A paradigm shift can help here if resources are used more efficiently from the start.

Resource efficiency as a paradigm shift

The federal government has responded to this with the "National Sustainability Strategy" which, among other things, provides for increasing raw material productivity. This means that resources are used better and more efficiently with the help of new technologies, processes and also new ideas. Economic growth is to be decoupled from the use of raw materials.

In 2012, the so-called "German Resource Efficiency Program (ProgRess)" was also adopted by the federal government. This established goals, central ideas and approaches for the protection of natural resources. This includes, for example, that the federal government must report to the German Bundestag every four years on the development of resource efficiency in Germany. In addition, the resource efficiency program must be updated: The progress report ProgRess II was approved by the Federal Cabinet on March 2, 2016, and ProgRess III on June 17, 2020. It is emphasized that resource efficiency contributes to the achievement of climate protection goals. In ProgRess III, the topic of mobility is taken up for the first time by including the transport of resources and products. There is also greater focus on digitization in the context of resource efficiency: through digitization, for example through intelligent solutions in production or recycling, resources can be used more sparingly. At the same time, however, the growing number of tablets, smartphones and servers is consuming more resources (such as rare metals) and energy.

In order to be able to assess the extent to which more resource efficiency has been achieved, the federal government records various measures. The indicator of total raw material productivity is particularly important, as it shows how much added value is generated per ton of raw material input. In 2016, the federal government set itself the goal of continuing the trend from 2000 to 2010: in these years the increase averaged 1.5 percent and is to be maintained until 2030.

Resource efficiency in business

In the course of the value chain there are various levers for using resources more efficiently. If possible, renewable raw materials should be used. Depending on the branch of industry, water plays an important role: This is why water extraction and wastewater processes can also be an issue. The transport of resources and finished goods should also be sustainable. Circular economy is also an element of resource efficiency: material and energetic recovery or recycling play a role here. In addition, renewable energies should be used as far as possible and the energy generated should be used sparingly. This means that in addition to the production processes, the devices, machines and buildings used should also be energy and material efficient.

For numerous products there are innumerable possibilities to reduce resources in different phases of the life cycle. For example, Deutsche Bahn AG has been installing displays of the "Leader" system (Locomotive Engineer Assist Display and Event Recorder) in electric locomotives for freight trains since 2016. These give the train drivers speed recommendations that are below the permitted maximum speed and take into account inclines and declines for the next kilometer of the route. In this way, a driving style is achieved that saves electricity. This helps to save electricity and emissions, especially for freight trains with a high transport weight.

Another example are tools made from packaging waste. The Dutch airline KLM uses 3D printing processes to process packaging waste that arises from catering on long-haul flights into tools for repairing aircraft. Until now, KLM bought plastics for this. Now the many empty PET bottles are being recycled. Further examples of resource efficiency can be found on the "Resource Efficiency Center" page.

More resource efficiency is also possible in the automotive industry, for example through lightweight construction options. The weight of trucks can already be reduced by up to 30 percent. A truck could thus transport more freight, save fuel and relieve the traffic network. In the same way, the use of small cars can save resources as they require less material in production and use less energy in use.

The efficient use of resources also has advantages for the company itself, because it can reduce costs. In addition, there are incentives for innovation. Both can lead to greater competitiveness.

What can consumers do?

Consumers can also save resources with their consumption decisions. Although there is currently no separate label for resource efficiency, especially in public tenders there are mostly so-called award criteria with a clear focus on resource protection, such as recycled paper, products made from recycled plastic, reusable packaging and reusable cup systems.

The "Blue Angel" also includes the shelf life of products. This means that in order to be able to label their products with the Blue Angel, manufacturers must, for example, have spare parts available for repair for a longer period of time and design the products to be repair-friendly. This is also an aspect of resource efficiency.

Resource-conscious shopping also means choosing products that

  • Are resource-light (i.e. products with a small ecological backpack),
  • are little packed,
  • can be reused and reused,
  • are reduced in weight,
  • are multifunctional and / or modular,
  • are durable (robust and repairable).

Consumers can also save resources in the usage phase, for example through economical consumption or a longer service life (reusing, maintaining and repairing products). Rental, sharing and pooling offers also offer great potential for saving resources. Ultimately, consumers can also save resources by properly disposing of or passing on recyclable or usable products.

Related Links

Federal Environment Ministry: Resource Efficiency FAQ

UN Resource Panel (International Resource Panel): Resource Efficiency and Climate Change

Federal Environment Agency: Resource use and its consequences

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