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06/05/2020 | Press Release

Germany's footprints are too big

Everyone is talking about the bioeconomy as a buzzword - but what is actually behind this term? The first pilot report on the monitoring of the German bioeconomy, which will be published on June 5, provides information about this.

Image: Achim Manche.

The report was prepared under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Stefan Bringezu, head of the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR) at the University of Kassel, in collaboration with the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute. "Simply put, bioeconomy refers to the part of the economy concerned with the production, processing or consumption of biological products," says Prof. Bringezu. This includes biomass produced in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, horticulture and landscaping, as well as its use in manufacturing, services and consumption. "Also not to be neglected are the biogenic residual and waste materials generated in waste management," explains Prof. Bringezu.

All these materials and services are interlinked via complex processes. "To translate this complexity into comprehensible images and politically manageable orientation variables, we chose the footprint model," says Prof. Bringezu. Together with his team and partner institutes of the SYMOBIO research consortium, he examined a total of five different footprints to determine the overall ecological footprint for Germany.

In addition to the familiar climate and water footprints, these include the forest footprint, the biotic material footprint and the global agricultural footprint. "With the help of these indicators, we can make trends in the bioeconomy recognizable in order to provide both politics and business, but also individual consumers, with facts for their decisions," describes Prof. Bringezu.   

For Prof. Bringezu, one of the most important findings is the fact that Germany contributed significantly to the conversion of natural areas in other regions in the 2000s through its demand for food, feed and bioenergy. "In 2015, Germany occupied more than 50 million hectares of agricultural land worldwide for its consumption. By comparison, our domestic agricultural land covers 17 million hectares," reports Prof. Bringezu.

The water footprint was also related for the first time to water availability in the regions from which Germany sources its agricultural imports. Although the total amount of irrigation water will decrease overall in the coming years, the share coming from regions with high water scarcity is expected to increase.

Also an important finding is the fact that about 60 percent of the grain grown in Germany is fed to animals. "Consumption of agricultural products accounts for the largest share of climate gas emissions in the bioeconomy. More than half of this is caused by meat and dairy products."

"Some of these facts are already well known or are being bandied about as buzzwords in the media - what is new about our pilot report is that it brings together the available data and provides a scientifically systematic and comprehensive analysis," explains Prof. Bringezu. "The pilot report first broadened the perspective and revealed important correlations and trends. Ultimately, the results can be understood to mean that ongoing political activities should be stepped up in the direction of resource efficiency and climate protection. We should say goodbye to the idea that as many mineral raw materials as possible should be replaced by renewable ones. The planet is too small for that. The future lies in the efficiently combined use of biotic and non-biotic resources."


The preparation was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the SYMOBIO project. The work of the Thünen Institute was funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture through the Agency of Renewable Resources (FNR). The work of FhG-ISI is based on the research study "Determining economic key figures and indicators for monitoring the progress of the bioeconomy" commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (consortium led by the ifo Institute). The preparation was accompanied by the steering group for the monitoring of the bioeconomy, in which the three aforementioned ministries were represented.


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