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Measuring our resource use

A vital tool in creating a resource-efficient EU

1 Measuring our resource use / Friends of the Earth

“To stay ahead, the EU needs to be quick in
seizing opportunities and in anticipating and
adapting to future trends.”
European Commission, Consultation on the Future “EU 2020” Strategy, November 20091

the challenge – why bother measuring how much we’re using?

Europe is using ever more of the many commodities (including products Why is resource use important?
world’s resources, and is now more linked to land, such as food). Europe Natural resources are the foundation
dependent on imported resources needs to use resources far more of our economy and our society.
than any other global region.2 Yet efficiently to make our economy more Without them neither could function.
we’re also throwing away over 5 billion resilient to fluctuations in the price and Nature provides humans with all the
euro’s worth of valuable resources availability of resources. resources necessary for life, including:
every year. There is now widespread • Land, on which we grow food and
The Earth’s ability to sustain agreement, particularly from the other crops that we use for building
humanity’s increasing rate of business community, on the need to materials and energy.
consumption is being pushed to the become more resource efficient. Yet • Mined materials, to extract metals
limit. Europe is playing a massive role Europe doesn’t measure how much or fuels.
in degrading the natural environment resources it uses, nor does it set any • Water for crops, animals
on which we all depend. targets or assess whether policies and humans.
Europe’s dependence on imported improve resource efficiency. • A stable climate, clean air to breathe
resources makes it economically Friends of the Earth Europe is and predictable weather conditions.
vulnerable, and the extraction and calling on the European Union to take As global standards of living increase,
processing of these resources have the first steps to tackle this issue by and the population rises, we are
adverse impacts on people and the ensuring that it measures resource making ever-higher demands on the
environment. use, and adopts policies to increase planet. This is leading to competition
The economic dangers of excessive resource efficiency, such as higher for resources between different
resource use were demonstrated just recycling targets. The EU should regions. There is also competition
before the financial crisis in 2008, also devise long-term targets and over uses of resources, for example
when rapid growth in the global strategies in order to reduce our whether land is used for food, fuels
economy led to soaring prices of use of the world’s resources. or biodiversity. The result of these

Friends of the Earth

Forests are being cleared for animal feed and fuel crops such as soya and oil palm

2 Measuring our resource use / Friends of the Earth

pressures is, among other things, also lead to increases in food prices, consumption are getting worse.
rising prices for resources, which which affects the ability of the poor Current EU environmental policies
have a particularly serious impact to afford a decent diet. fail to address the fundamental
on the poorest people. It’s not only people in developing problem of rising resource use
countries who suffer from increasing in a resource-finite world:
Resource use: a key
prices of resources. Millions of • Despite years of discussion, the
sustainability issue
Europeans are unable to heat their EU still doesn’t measure its resource
Our consumption of natural resources
homes adequately – and rising energy use, new policies are not assessed
includes not just the physical
materials that are extracted but also prices will hit the poorest hardest. for their impact on resource use,
the global ecosystems, services Tackling this problem requires
and the EU has no targets to reduce
and cycles that regulate conditions ensuring people can afford to pay
our resource use.
on the planet. The concentration of for heat and light, but also helping
• Through its Raw Materials Initiative,
carbon in the atmosphere – leading them reduce their energy consumption
the EU has shown more interest in
us towards dangerous climate through energy efficiency. This
securing access to new resources
change – is perhaps the most obvious includes improving housing insulation
from developing countries than
environmental limit that humanity and the efficiency of heating systems.
In other words, a vital part of the in increasing Europe’s resource
is facing. But this is not the only
solution to fuel poverty is more efficiency. This focus jeopardises
ecological crisis that our consumption
efficient use of resources – the poverty alleviation and development
of the Earth’s resources is driving.
resource in this case being fuel. in developing countries. It also
Others include:
• Forests are being cleared for animal makes Europe over-dependent
EU environmental policy
feed and fuel crops such as soya on imports and less resilient to
– past, present and future
and oil palm. commodity price fluctuations.4
Over the past 30 years Europe has
• Ecosystems and habitats are • Even in areas where the EU can
made significant progress in tackling
increasingly imperilled by pollution easily improve resource efficiency,
environmental threats from some
from industry, extraction and such as waste, it is failing to bring in
harmful substances, such as air
dumping. effective policies to make it happen.
pollutants, sewage and hazardous
• The oceans are being For example, a recent analysis
waste. The European Union has
emptied of fish far faster than for Friends of the Earth showed
improved the amount of a product
they can replenish themselves. that Europe is currently burying
it can make for one euro, pound or
dollar. But better cost efficiency has and burning more than 5 billion
The impacts of resource use euros worth of valuable resources.5
not led to resource-use efficiency.
on people
We have simply consumed more With the EU so dependent on
The over-use of natural resources not
and more. imported resources there is clearly an
only affects the environment,
In fact, problems flowing from the urgent need for more policies to boost
but people too.
scale of European production and eco-efficiency and reduce waste.
In Indonesia, for example, palm
oil production has resulted in
human rights abuses, leaving many
indigenous communities without “Our prosperity will come from innovation and
land, water or adequate livelihoods.3 from using resources better, and where the key
Some oil palm companies – often
with the collusion of the police and input will be knowledge...
authorities – use violent tactics to grab
land from indigenous communities. “In developing a new vision and direction for
Previously self-sufficient families end
up locked into debt and poorly paid
EU policy, we need to recognise that conserving
work, struggling to afford education energy, natural resources and raw materials,
and food. They lose the goods and
services, such as food, materials, and using them more efficiently and increasing
medicine, that the forest previously productivity will be the key drivers of the
provided. Pollution from pesticides,
fertilisers and the pressing process is future competitiveness of our industry and our
leaving some villages without clean economies.”
water. The competition between
biofuels and other uses of land can European Commission, Consultation on the Future “EU 2020” Strategy, November 20091

3 Measuring our resource use / Friends of the Earth

the solution – measuring Europe’s resource use

The EU does not currently measure its effective in this area. areas where further investigation is
total use of resources, which makes it The Spring Alliance manifesto,7 required (which is a key role of impact
difficult for targets to be set or policies supported by the European Trade assessment).
to be evaluated. Union Confederation and a large For example, if these indicators had
A 2009 study by Friends of the number of environment, development been part of the impact assessment
Earth Europe and Sustainable Europe and social non-governmental of the 10 per cent biofuels targets in
Research Institute (SERI) in Vienna organisations, also includes a demand the Renewables Directive, it would
looked at how to measure Europe’s for Europe to measure its overall have been clear that to achieve
use of resources in a way that is resource use: such targets the EU would need a
achievable and comprehensive.6 “Measure the EU’s overall resource considerable increase in its land
It concluded that the best way would use, including the use of material, footprint. This would have triggered
be to use four indicators: water and land, as well as greenhouse further questions about where this
• Land (in hectares), including land gas emissions, whether occurring land might come from, and what – or
used outside the EU (for example inside or outside the EU.” who – was using it at the moment. In
to grow crops for food or energy fact, land was mentioned only once
sources). How would these indicators be used? in the impact assessment, and there
• Material (in tonnes), including • The indicators can be used by the was no serious consideration of the
those used to make products EU and governments to set targets, amount of land required by the policy.8
that are imported into Europe measure progress, establish The indicators would also allow
(sometimes called the material policies and assess the impact the EU to develop targets to reduce
rucksack of products). Data sources of policy changes. its resource use, and help in the
allow this figure to be broken down • Companies can use them to development of policy to achieve
into different forms of materials, assess and improve the resource these targets.
for example biological and mineral use associated with their products For example, our research has
resources. and activities. shown that each year the EU is
• Water (in litres), including water This measurement approach would disposing of more than 5 billion euros
used outside the EU to produce provide a key tool for increasing of valuable resources (by sending
imported products (eg cotton). integration and policy coherence, them to landfill or incinerating them).5
• Greenhouse gas emissions showing the real extent of EU’s This is a conservative analysis, which
created by EU’s consumption (in consumption of natural resources. excludes the scarce metals found in
CO2 equivalent), which includes Through measuring resource use electrical goods, for example. Yet the
both Europe’s Kyoto emissions, it will be possible to incorporate impact assessment of the Thematic
and the carbon footprint associated resource efficiency into impact Strategy on Waste Prevention and
with imported products. assessment. Adding these indicators Recycling in 2005 did not assess
to impact assessment would enable the resource efficiency benefits of
These indicators already exist resource impacts to be highlighted different policy options.9
in research literature, and they are at an early stage, and help identify
all quite transparent, measuring
clear physical quantities.
The indicators do not directly
measure impacts on biodiversity. conclusion
But they can be used to highlight
issues that need to be investigated. As global population grows, and that Friends of the Earth and SERI
For example, if a new policy such standards of living rise in many have developed provide a workable
as a biofuel target or reform of the countries, the pressure on the world’s and effective way of helping the EU
Common Agricultural Policy results resources – whether land, materials, measure and reduce its consumption
in a measurable big increase in water, or the climate – becomes ever of natural resources. By adopting
EU land use, then there should greater. This pressure will affect these resource-use indicators into the
be further investigation. people, the environment, governments EU policy-making process, Europe will
Nor do the indicators address and businesses around the world. be taking the first steps to developing
issues of hazardous chemicals The EU must respond to these a decarbonised and highly resource-
or pollution; but it has been found trends and seize the opportunity efficient economy, with the benefits for
that specific regulation (such as the to accurately assess and reduce people, the environment and economy
REACH chemicals policy) is more our resource use. The indicators that would bring.

4 Measuring our resource use / Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth has worked with Sustainable Europe Research Institute in
Vienna to derive new indicators for the EU to measure and reduce its resource use.
We have selected four indicators, which all include both the resources used within the EU
and in the production of goods that we import:
• land: the total area used in hectares
• materials: the total tonnage used, divided into biological and mineral materials
• water: water footprint, measured in litres
• climate: carbon footprint, including the carbon emissions associated
with imported products
These indicators can help us improve Europe’s resource efficiency.


1 European Commission, 2009, Consultation 4 Friends of the Earth Europe, 2009, EU 7 Spring Alliance, 2009, Spring Alliance
on the Future “EU 2020” Strategy, http:// Raw Materials Initiative: Commentary Manifesto, from Friends of the Earth Europe, manifesto
publications/2009/FoEE_commentary_ 8 European Commission, 2008, Impact
2 Sustainable Europe Research Institute, RawMaterialsInitiative_feb09.pdf assessment for the package of
GLOBAL 2000 and Friends of the Earth implementation measures for the
Europe, 2009, Overconsumption? 5 Friends of the Earth Europe, 2009, Gone EU’s objectives on climate change
Our use of the world’s natural to waste: The valuable resources that and renewable energy for 2020, http://
resources, European countries bury and burn, http://
publications/2009/Overconsumption_ doc/2008_res_ia_en.pdf
Sep09.pdf FoEE_gone_to_waste_Oct09.pdf
9 European Commission, 2005, Impact
3 Friends of the Earth, LifeMosaic and 6 Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Assessment on the Thematic Strategy
Sawit Watch, 2008, Losing Ground: 2009, How to measure Europe’s on the prevention and recycling of
The human rights impacts of oil palm resource use. An analysis for Friends of waste and the immediate implementing
plantation expansion in Indonesia, the Earth Europe, http://www.foeeurope. measures, org/publications/2009/seri_foee_ environment/waste/pdf/ia_waste.pdf
losingground.pdf measuring_eu_resource_use_final.pdf

5 Measuring our resource use / Friends of the Earth

Measuring our resource use

Europe is using more and more of the world’s 1 LAND The land we use, both within Europe and
resources, including land, materials and water. outside Europe as a result of imported products.
Global competition for resources is growing fast,
2 MATERIALS The materials we use, both within
leading to a long term trend of rising prices, and
and outside Europe, and divided into biological and
Europe’s dependence on imported resources makes
mineral materials.
it economically vulnerable. Growing global use of
resources also has many adverse impacts 3 WATER Our water footprint, which measures
on people and the environment across the world. the water used within Europe and that involved in
producing our imports.
Increasing Europe’s resource efficiency will help
Europe to become less dependent on imports, 4 CLIMATE Our carbon footprint, the greenhouse
save money for companies, and make our economy gas emissions we are responsible for within Europe
more resilient to fluctuations in the future price and as a result of our imports.
and availability of resources.
Measuring these indicators, and using them in the
Friends of the Earth Europe is therefore calling impact assessment of new policies, will allow us
on the European Union to measure its global to evaluate our current global resource use and
resource use, so that we know what we are currently identify which policies can be used to reduce this
dependent on, and so we can create policies that will resource use.
make us more resource efficient.
This measurement approach would provide a key
Following an in-depth examination of resource use tool for increasing Europe’s policy integration and
measurement by the Sustainable Europe Research coherence, help the EU to develop targets to reduce
Institute in Vienna, we are proposing the following its resource use, and aid the development of policy
four indicators: to achieve these targets.

For further information on the Friends of the Earth Europe Resources and Consumption campaign,

Authors: Michael Warhurst and Becky Slater

Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland is part of Friends of the Earth International
– the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 77 diverse national member groups and some
5,000 local activist groups on every continent. With over 2 million members and supporters around the world,
we campaign on today’s most urgent environmental and social issues.

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