Natural resources such as raw materials, drinking water and fertile soil, but also biodiversity, are the basis of our livelihood on Earth. At present the global rate of consumption of raw materials is twice that of just 30 years ago. Although the industrial nations generate the majority of global net output, the developing countries suffer disproportionately from the ecological and social impact of resource consumption. Per capita consumption of raw materials is about three times higher in Europe than in Asia and four times as high as in Africa. The level of consumption in Germany alone is around 20 tonnes per capita per year.
Minister Hendricks pointed out: "We bear special responsibility as an industrialised country! We must set an example for other countries as to how technical, economic and social development can be achieved while protecting nature at the same time. Resource efficiency is the key word in this context! It is our means of preserving our natural environment and of doing justice to the rights of all people everywhere to development and prosperity."
Industry is a major driver of more responsible resource management for it not only contains pollution, it also strengthens the competitiveness of the German economy and creates jobs. A study by the German Agency for Material Efficiency (demea) has shown that enterprises can save an average of more than €200,000 per year on material costs. Often this requires no large-scale investments, and the costs of measures are generally recouped within a few years' time.
Ms Krautzberger is therefore calling for the "topic of resources to be granted highest priority on the political agenda in Germany and Europe. As a modern industrialised country we must make every effort to bring down our consumption of raw materials in absolute terms. This is about more than making the production of an individual consumer good more efficient: we must reduce the overall amount of raw materials we use to secure our prosperity." Ms Krautzberger also advised that the topic of resource conservation must be more closely linked and discussed together with climate protection. There is great potential for synergies in this context. "Energy upgrading in an old building saves about two-thirds of the building materials required to erect a new structure. In terms of climate and resource protection, Germany would be well advised to improve the energy efficiency of the building stock in particular, and to put this stock to greater use instead of engaging in new building projects."
Consumers can also do their bit to conserve resources. Consumer goods such as mobile phones, automobiles and even t-shirts consume natural resources, although this is not always apparent when looking at the products: consumption is buried deep in the associated production processes. Every consumer product carries such an "ecological backpack": the production of a mobile phone, for example, requires the use of about 60 different materials, including some 30 metals like copper, gold, silver or lithium as well as ceramics and various plastics. The resulting consumption of 1,300 litres of water alone is equivalent to the drinking water needs of one person for 10 days.
Consumers have the following options for action: use devices for a longer time, sell used equipment which is still functional, repair defective devices or take them to be recycled. Ms Hendricks pointed out that the Blue Angel ecolabel provides consumer guidance, saying, "Producers must meet clear criteria if they want to make use of the Blue Angel. Depending on the product recycled materials must be used, pollutants must be avoided, spare parts must be supplied if repair is necessary and products must be recyclable. This will also help consumers."
In addition to a good rate of recycling, certain minimum standards for raw material and material efficiency of products should be taken into consideration. Durable, reusable, easily serviced and recycled products help to boost value added while reducing the consumption of resources. One possibility is to establish a device which is the most efficient in terms of materials and resources as the benchmark of all devices in its class. The Ecodesign Directive provides a reference point for this and has served as an instrument of the European Union to already successfully reduce the energy consumption of electrical equipment.