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15.12.2020

A method to estimate resource budgets for a sustainable economy

Primary material extraction remains a necessary input for the circular economy

Resources are the basis of our economy. But their extraction and final disposal cause major environmental burdens.

Reducing the environmental burden of resource extraction is essential for building a sustainable society. Hence, resource consumption needs to be limited to what the Earth system can tolerate.

Resources are the physical “currency” of our economy. In order to know the availability of each “material currency”, a research team at Empa developed a method translating the Earth system boundaries into resource budgets. The ecological resource availability determines the global annual production of a resource that can be considered sustainable. It is designed to estimate how much of a specific resource can be extracted withing the Earth system boundaries, taking into account impacts caused by primary production and end-of-life treatment.

The method considers different allocation scenarios, technologies and resource demand patterns. For example, when calculating the availability for major metals based on today’s production technologies and resource demand patterns, the global production would need to be reduced by 40 times compared to production in 2016.

With this methodology, we can estimate the annual budgets of resources, bringing the reality of resource constraints one step closer to each one of us.

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Harald Desing Empa Lerchenfeldstrasse 5 9014 St. Gallen +41 58 765 75 13 harald.desing@empa.ch