Insights to the first World Resource Forum in Switzerland

On 1 December 2016, the World Resource Forum (WRF), based in St. Gallen, met for the first time in its home country Switzerland. The GES was represented by Andrea Schaller and new member Norbert N. Vasen. Host to the event was the EMPA, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf, near Zürich.

Photo Credit: Roman Keller

Photo Credit: Roman Keller

WRF is an independent non-profit international organisation that serves as a platform, fostering knowledge exchange on resources management amongst business leaders, policy-makers, NGOs, scientists and the public. They do this mainly through international conferences on recycling and re-use of resources, already since 1995.

During the morning the conference was on the programme. Seven speakers explained to a public of over 100 participants the need for a Resource Transition, and where we are nowadays in this development.

Like the Energy Transition (“Energiewende”), there is a growing need to also introduce a Resource Transition, even if this is more difficult to present to the public, as it is more difficult to imagine and explain. This in turn is caused by the huge variety of materials obtained from our environment, and their very different life cycles in our society.

Our present position in the resource management is not sustainable. First of all, humankind is approaching the maximum extraction capacity for many resources, especially metals. Secondly, we need an increasing amount of space only to obtain the resources (“footprint”), measured in ha/person or number of planets for the global population. Finally, the impact of our resource extraction, transformation and disposal is a threat to sustainability.

The good news, presented during the event, is the potential for improvement. First of all, the digital economy (e.g. the Internet of Things) will enable us to use much fewer resources to reach a certain level of production or well-being. Furthermore, the art of recycling is making huge progress (as can be confirmed by the author, who attended the September 2016 International Solid Waste Association conference in Serbia).

During the afternoon, the participants were divided into groups, rotating through three workshops and thereby contributing to a decision making process for innovative resource projects in Switzerland. Finally, there was a visit to the NEST project and the market of raw materials. The first showed how new building technologies, materials and systems are tested, researched and validated in realistic conditions. EMPA has a building specifically for this purpose, composed of modular units. The second visit, to the raw materials market, put the visitors into contact with the representatives of resource companies and researchers, who presented their posters and responded to the questions. This was also an excellent opportunity for networking.

At the end of the day, there was a panel discussion with 6 participants. The main ideas presented were:
– The ecological systems will put a high pressure on the ability to cooperate and to create business.
– It will be necessary to think in a holistic way, otherwise there can be no integration. For example, production and consumption must be merged into one efficiency model.
– Legislation must get tighter, but that requires international consensus and therefore time. Science and business must be quicker and show what is possible and profitable, so this consensus can be stimulated.

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