Natural Resources and Waste

Measuring resource usage

Natural resources are the foundation of life, making them also the foundation of the economy and human society. We exist thanks to the:

In short, we have an intimate, dependent relationship with nature, our surroundings and the environment.

In industrial societies, progress is increasingly associated with the consumption of resources and materials, and often the use of more efficient or intensive technologies. At the same time, the world’s population continues to increase exponentially. The result is that the demand on the Earth’s resources and materials keeps growing.

This pressure on natural resources can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on the context in which it becomes evident.

In some cases, it is seen in the form of direct competition for the use of a specific resource (e.g. if the land is used for growing, construction, to mine materials or to conserve biodiversity).

In others, it’s about regional conflicts related to the effects of the exploitation of certain resources (e.g. pollution of the Niger delta due to oil extraction and gas burning, or the social and economical consequences of the felling of woods in Indonesia for the production of palm oil).

In Europe (the region that consumes and imports the most resources in the world), these conflicts are often only visible when their market price fluctuates (there are many examples in the international markets, such as the price of energy or some foods).

Also within domestic markets, price is an indicator of the scarcity of some regional products (as can be seen in some fish catches), or the environmental cost of some human activities (the increase in waste management rates suggests that ‘someone’ has to take on the impacts of the excessive and diverse materials that our society throws away).

In short, human demand on natural resources often ends up leading to environmental conflicts of greater or smaller effect, and ultimately affects the price of some market products and services.

Even so, the consequences of other human impacts seem clearer still, either because of their global reach or because they need a longer time to become apparent. Some of the most significant cases are the increase in CO2 levels (which is resulting in global climate change) or the consequences of using nuclear energy (which produces radioactive waste that has a half life of 14,000 years).

In the last 30 years, Europe has made significant progress in reducing the environmental impacts of some human activities, be they reducing pollution, treating wastewater or managing some dangerous waste.

In some cases, it has also managed to increase production efficiency, in a way that (with the same financial cost) more can now be produced. But all this hasn’t led to a reduction in resource usage; on the contrary, the consumption of natural resources hasn´t stopped growing.

Amigos de la Tierra wants to express the need to establish policies that mean a real reduction in human demand on the environment. Currently, the European Union (EU) doesn´t employ mechanisms to measure its resource usage, thereby making it difficult to define objectives or evaluate policies.

In response to this situation, Friends of the Earth (along with the Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI) in Vienna) carried out a study in 2009 to define a method that lets us measure resource usage in Europe in a feasible and comprehensive way.

Four indicators emerged from the study, which measure the quantity of land (ha), materials (tonnes), water (litres) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are associated with the production and consumption of goods, be they domestic or imported.

The final step for moving towards a more efficient and sustainable economy and society is to be aware of the real impact of our actions. Amigos de la Tierra invites governments and the EU to use these indicators to:

They are also a useful tool for businesses that want to evaluate and improve resource usage generated by their products and activities.

Medir el uso de nuestros recursos