Germany: Decoupling economic growth from resource use

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German Government Germany: Decoupling economic growth from resource use

The German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) is a programme for the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources. It aims to decouple economic growth from resource use, and as far as possible reduce the environmental damage associated with resource extraction. The programme also looks to strengthen German industrial competitiveness and create a national sense of responsibility for resource consumption.

Initiated in 2012, the policy helps Germany meet what its government sees as its global responsibility for the ecological and social impacts of the country’s resource use. The programme focuses on the material use of abiotic raw materials such as metal ores and industrial minerals, and also covers the material use of biotic raw materials. It fits into the broader National Sustainable Development Strategy of 2002 that includes a strategy on the sustainable use of raw materials and sets a target to double the resource productivity of the German economy between 1994 and 2020.

An umbrella for resource efficiency

The programme tracks the development of resource efficiency in Germany, provides an overview of existing activities, and identifies the needs for new or adjusted actions. To ensure the smooth implementation of the programme, the government reviews progress every four years. The first revision was in 2016 and resulted in the publishing of ProgRess II.

The programme uses the indicator raw material productivity as a key point of reference. This metric looks at the ratio of economic output (in Euros of GDP) to direct material inputs (in tonnes). From 2016 a new indicator, total raw material productivity, which includes biotic as well as abiotic raw materials, has been added. Imports of materials are taken into account not only by their weight, but also by their associated total primary raw material input. This prevents productivity gains being reported just because resource intensive processes have been moved abroad.

In addition to the use of materials and their related environmental impacts, ProgRess II also promotes the joint analysis of energy and material efficiency to identify potential synergies and avoid conflicting goals. Most metal processing operations, for example, consume significant amounts of energy. Reducing the flow and losses of materials processed leads to a reduction in energy consumption. However, the paths to material efficiency and to energy efficiency can sometimes diverge. For instance, recycling materials from end-of-life products requires energy for the reverse logistics and the recycling. In-depth analysis is necessary to determine whether the use of the harvested secondary materials offsets this additional energy requirement.

The programme’s 123 measures, which are aimed to impact whole value chains, follow four guiding principles:

  1. Combine ecological necessities with economic opportunities, innovation support and social responsibility
  2. View global responsibility as a key guide of national resource policy
  3. Make economic and production practices in Germany gradually less dependent on primary resources by managing closed-cycles
  4. Secure sustainable resource use for the long term by guiding society towards quality growth.

Adopting these principles has helped overcome the problem encountered by policymakers when drawing up the programme of making clear distinctions between the various concepts that exist in the area. Agreeing on a definition of resource efficiency and the metrics to measure it presented similar problems. Officials also found that the effort to standardise guidelines to industry was much more complicated than for instance in the field of energy efficiency. In addition to achieving such common understandings, policymakers found that to anchor resource-efficiency in the mindsets of stakeholders is a long process that policy must aim to support and sustain.

An additional critical challenge of designing this policy programme was to create an environment in which the – often very large – investments necessary to increase resource efficiency can be financed by private actors.

It is the German Government's goal to decouple even further the use of natural resources from economic growth. Germany aims to become one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally sound economies in the world.

- Dr. Barbara Hendricks, German Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety

Amplification networks

One of the key outcomes of the first ProgRess action plan was the building of networks to amplify policy measures. These networks have proved successful in accelerating the exchange of knowledge among stakeholders. The principle cross industry example, the 31 member Resource Efficiency Network (NeRess), is managed by the Association of German Engineers (VDI) and brings together industry associations, special-interest groups, chambers of commerce, research institutes, and Federal and Länder (regional) bodies to share best practice, expertise and experience in resource-efficient production, products and management. There are also sector specific organisations, for example the Round Table on Resource Efficiency in Buildings.

Change agents

To offer further practical help to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in implementing the resource efficiency measures, the German Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) commissioned the VDI to build a centre for resource efficiency (VDI ZRE). This offers sector specific tools and guidance such as resource checks that can be used by manufacturing industry to increase internal resource efficiency and knowledge sharing.

Reductions in the consumption of raw materials are also achieved at the stage of product design. To help designers create more resource efficient products, the VDI ZRE provides tools that support lifecycle assessment and methodologies for eco-design.

Also managed by the VDI ZRE, the Education for Resource Conservation and Resource Efficiency Network (BilRess) aims to build awareness of the concept of resource efficiency in society more broadly. It builds skills in resource conservation and efficiency at all levels of education by providing a platform for exchanging educational material. BilRess brings together education sector representatives with their opposite numbers in policymaking, business, industry associations, trade unions, and research institutes.

This case study was originally published in November 2016. The results of ProgRess III are due in February 2020. Further information on ProgRess.

Level of Government



The German Resource Efficiency Programme has led to the development of a broad-based political and social process to implement resource efficiency measures.

Responsible Agencies

Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety

Complementary Policies

National Sustainable Development Strategy

Circular Economy Act, including secondary legislation such as Sewage Sludge Ordinance, Commercial Waste Ordinance, and Substitute Building Materials Ordinance

Waste Prevention Programme

National Programme for Sustainable Consumption

Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act

Emission Protection Law

Federal Nature Conservation Act

Water Resources Act

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