- On a global scale, the protection of nature in the broadest sense (air, water and soil quality, biodiversity of flora and fauna) is a major challenge in the fight against pollution, resource limitation and global warming.
- In Switzerland, the average temperature has risen by 2°C since the beginning of the readings (1864), twice as much as the global average.
- Each Swiss person produces 15.4 tons of greenhouse gases per year (more than double the world average of 6 tons/inhabitant) : 32% of all emissions are caused by transportation, 24% by buildings, 24% by industry, and 19% by agriculture and waste treatment.
- By ratifying the Paris Agreement, Switzerland committed itself in a second step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half of their 1990 level by 2030.
Transportation : electrification of the vehicle fleet and its autonomous management are the two major challenges to be met (see moonshot on smart cities).
Industry and agriculture : precision and automation technologies reduce energy losses and pollution in the air, water and soil (see precision farming).
Construction : building insulation is the key factor for energy efficiency. In order to reach the CO2 neutral objectives in 2050, old buildings must be renovated as soon as possible and plus-energy buildings must be built, i.e., buildings that produce more energy than they need. They must comply with the Minergie® standards, which were developed in Switzerland and are among the most demanding in the world. The use of CO2-neutral building materials and intelligent, automated house technologies optimizes resources.
Recycling : Switzerland is world champion in recycling : 93% of glass, 91% of aluminum cans, 83% of PET beverage bottles and 67% of batteries and accumulators were recycled in 2015 (source FDFA, Swiss Confederation). The focus must now shift to products that are more difficult to recycle (electronics in particular).
Strenghts & Weaknesses
Switzerland has a strong culture of environmental protection. In fact, it is ranked third in the world in terms of the highest Environmental Performance Index (EPI 2020, Yale & Columbia University). Swisscom, e.g., was voted the world’s greenest telecom operator in 2019 (World Finance Magazine). It should be noted, however, that Switzerland has traditionally been engaged in sectors with a high impact on nature, such as agrochemicals, cement, food processing and industrial production in general. This exposure to pollution has forced it to develop cleantech solutions, which it can now export worldwide.
In construction, Switzerland has world leaders, such as Lafarge-Holcim (cement plant, 77,000 employees), Geberit (sanitary facilities, 6,000 employees), ABB (electricity, 111,000 employees) and dormakaba (access protection, 15,000 employees). The R & D activities at ETHZ, EPFL, Empa and Eawag are world-class in the field of intelligent and sustainable buildings.
On the other hand, environmental technology funds are few and underfunded. Investments in cleantech start-ups are abnormally low (between CHF 100 and 150 billion per year) compared to the needs. It is essential that the government, local authorities and companies make a commitment to make the risk/return on investment ratio more attractive. Otherwise, the Swiss cleantech sector will not be able to develop to its full potential. 207 cleantech start-ups have been created in the last 10 years, 26% of which are spin-offs from the ETHZ or EPFL. They are active in the sectors of decarbonization (Climeworks, South Pole), energy efficiency, water treatment, waste and recycling (Selfrag, UniSieve), renewable energy production (Insolight, Energy Vault), sustainable materials (Dimpora, CompPair) and new forms of transport (Cargo Sous Terrain) in particular.
The challenges are scientific, political, operational and social at the same time. They can only be solved with a massive national effort and in a concerted manner. The stakes are also financial : government support is essential to accelerate energy efficiency measures in buildings and the production of renewable energy, for example, as long as the economic model is not yet viable under the simple market laws.
- Switzerland number one in the world in the EPI ranking
- The Swiss Cleantech Cluster Number one in Europe
- Five start-ups valued at more than CHF 1 billion