What role do the markets play in sustainable business?

SECO has investigated this on the basis of studies. This involves price signals for efficient energy use, the greenhouse gas emissions contained in trade and the distribution of productivity increases between wage and leisure gains.

Efficient use of resources is a prerequisite for a sustainable economy. But what contribution do functioning markets make and where are the hurdles? This question was investigated by the departmental research of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in the latest call for proposals by means of several studies. Three studies examine the importance of price signals for efficient energy use, one study analyzes the relationship between foreign trade and greenhouse gas emissions, and one study sheds light on the long-term development of wage growth and leisure gains.

Efficiency potential in the energy market remains untapped

Higher prices reduce demand. This also applies to the electricity market if prices were to vary more. As a study by Swiss Economics shows, Swiss households reduce their electricity consumption by -1% to -3% if electricity prices rise by 10%. So far, this has only happened over the course of a year. This is because electricity prices are fixed for households in the basic supply over the course of a year. The potential for more efficient use of electricity due to the massive daily fluctuations in electricity prices on the wholesale market therefore remains untapped.

Fuel prices are moving more freely. As the study by the University of Applied Sciences Graubünden shows, consumers are reacting to higher fuel prices. The volume of traffic is falling. Purchasing behavior is adapting. The higher fuel prices are also likely to have contributed to the fact that more electric and hybrid cars are being purchased, even if many other factors also play a role in the choice of vehicle.

Switzerland is European champion in the efficient use of energy

At the level of the economy as a whole, Switzerland is already the European champion in the efficient use of energy. No other country in the EU generates more added value with less energy consumption, as the study by DIW Econ shows. On the one hand, Switzerland benefits from a high proportion of relatively low-energy sectors, such as the pharmaceutical industry. On the other hand, even energy-intensive sectors such as metal processing are more energy-efficient in Switzerland than abroad. Switzerland has also been able to further reduce its energy intensity in almost all sectors over time.

There is more pay and more free time

Over time, the Swiss economy has not only become more energy-efficient, but has also made more economical use of the production factors of labor and capital. Since 1950, labor productivity has more than tripled. This has enabled compensation per hour to increase by 400% over the same period, while the annual hours worked per person in employment have fallen by 37%. The study by BSS Economic Consultants, the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at ETH Zurich and the University of St. Gallen shows that the decline in working hours is due in particular to lower normal weekly working hours for a full-time position, a sharp increase in part-time employment and more vacation weeks.

In the period under review, the expected time in retirement also increased significantly. Finally, an analysis from 1997 onwards shows a significant increase in the average weekly working hours of women. As a result, the working hours of couple households increased despite - or perhaps because of - the trend towards more part-time work.

Greenhouse gas intensity of foreign trade decreases

The study by Ecoplan examined the international dimension of sustainable resource use. It was known that Switzerland, like other open economies, is a net importer of greenhouse gases. Reducing imports of greenhouse gases through trade policy measures, such as import quotas on emission-intensive goods, would entail high costs for Switzerland. A global CO2 price would be more economically efficient. Interestingly, Switzerland's foreign trade structure would hardly change in such a scenario compared to the current situation with different CO2 prices worldwide.