Background: what motivated this proposal?

At Global Footprint Network, we assembled «Watch out, dear Switzerland!» for you. We invite you to explore how to prepare Switzerland for a successful future. We also suggest practical tools that could help us identify winning strategies and set priorities. «Watch out, dear Switzerland!» exists online, or as a pdf. (Or read it German, French, or Italian).

If we recognize the risk of climate change and resource constraints, we need to ask ourselves whether Switzerland is too small to act, or too exposed to wait. What do we need to do to maintain Switzerland’s success into the future? Which decisions are needed, and what will it take to implement them?

When we talk about resource constraints, or wonder about the need for resource security, we take the perspective that ultimately the most limiting material factor for life, including human life, is nature’s ability to renew. Even the amount of fossil fuel on this planet is not the most limiting factor, because what we lack is enough capacity to absorb the CO2 emissions, not the amount underground.

To map how much nature there is to support life, we use an accounting tool called the “Ecological Footprint” or Footprint, for short. It adds up all the biologically productive area needed to regenerate everything people demand from nature –fruits and vegetables, fish, timber, fiber, absorption of carbon dioxide, and space for buildings, roads, and other infrastructure.

To prepare for the proposal, we ran, thanks to the support of Stiftung Mercator Schweiz and Paul Schiller Stiftung, three “Labs” the third one providing a synthesis:

  1. Energy provision, energy security, and sufficiency
  2. Food supply security
  3. Resource sovereignty

All this led to the proposal we are making to Switzerland.


More background on the concepts:

The entire website is dedicated to explaining the Ecological Footprint and its applications.

Learn how the national Footprint Accounts work in just 2.5 minutes.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

A general introduction to the Ecological Footprint is A Big Foot on a Small Planet? Accounting with the Ecological Footprint. Succeeding in a world with growing resource constraints. Published by GIZ.

A large number of Ecological Footprint reports is available here

A 2014 report and presentation materials for Swiss government agencies on resources and competitiveness by BakBasel and Global Footprint Network. English report called The Significance of Global Resource Availability to Swiss Competitiveness is available here. The event and supplementary materials are here.


One Planet Living in Switzerland

Global Footprint Network explains the Swiss Referendum of September 25 2016 which proposed a One Planet Economy.

On September 25, 2016, Swiss voters headed to the polls to decide on a bold initiative to put Switzerland on the path of a green economy. Initiated by members of the Green Party and the Social Democrats, this ballot initiative builds on the Ecological Footprint: If passed, it would incorporate the sustainable use of natural resources into the country’s constitution, and becoming the first country in the world to commit to one-planet living by 2050.

Switzerland currently consumes four times what Swiss ecosystems can regenerate. And if everyone in the world lived like the Swiss, we would need 3.3 planets.

To reach one-planet living by 2050, the Swiss would have to reduce their average per-person Ecological Footprint by more than two thirds, to at most 1.7 global hectares. This is the current capacity of the world’s renewable resources on a per-person basis. (The target would actually fall even further if populations globally continue to rise.)

The Swiss initiative also calls for a “circular economy strategy,” including measures to adopt new product regulations, encourage recycling, and promote research and innovation.

“Our initiative does not want to slow down growth. We aim for an economic system capable of producing goods with a long life and with as little waste as possible to give just one example,” stated Regula Rytz, parliamentarian and president of the Green party.

The initiative’s proponents have made clear they envision Switzerland becoming a sustainability pioneer and promoting a groundbreaking economic model, including a tax policy tied to the use of natural resources.

The initiative was hotly contested. The Federal Council (central government) and the Parliament have officially voiced their opposition. They argue that 2050 is too soon to achieve one-planet living without risking jeopardizing the Swiss economy in the process. Their argument can be found here.

On the other hand, if the world, and Switzerland live up to the 2°C climate goal set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the world would have exit fossil fuels before 2050. If the rest of the Ecological Footprint would not change, cutting the carbon Footprint to zero would reduce the Ecological Footprint by nearly 75% and meet the Swiss Initiative’s target. ETZ Zurich Professor Anton Gunzinger shows that this is possible, and even economically beneficial. (

One of the biggest questions remains, whether such a transition is too costly (as argued by the opponents) or whether such a transition is an economic necessity for Switzerland’s long term viability (as viewed by the proponents).

Eventually, 36% of the Swiss voters supported this initiative calling for a one-planet economy by 2050.



This project was made possible by the generous support of the Stiftung Mercator Schweiz and the Paul Schiller Stiftung. The passionate and energetic commitment of the Global Footprint Network staff led to the creation of the content, the Labs, and the website. We would like to thank Michel Gressot, Martin Halle, Sebastian Winkler, Derek Eaton, Karin Hess, Amanda Diep, Ronna Kelly, Laetitia Mailhes, Serena Manchini, Alessandro Galli, Mathis Wackernagel, and especially Ingrid Heinrich for her extraordinary organizational talent.