Consumption Natural resources and the environment

What is natural resource consumption?

Almost everything we do involves materials that have been extracted, processed, transformed, bought and sold, taxed and subsidised, and often shifted across vast distances.

Our economy is built around these raw materials – natural resources – like trees, gas, oil, metal ores, water and fertile land. Look at your smartphone. It likely contains cobalt from Africa, copper from Chile and aluminium from Australia.

Over the years, our appetite for raw materials has grown – from 1970 to 2010 our natural resource consumption more than tripled. But overconsumption worsens climate breakdown and increases air pollution. It exhausts the planet's life support systems like the ones that provide us with fresh water, and leaves us short of materials critical to our health and quality of life.

Fresh water reserves, fish stocks and forests are shrinking, many species are under threat of extinction and fertile land is being destroyed.

So what should we do?

A seagull picks a plastic crisp packet from the sea

Plastic pollution

Plastic sticks around in the environment for ages, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins. Plastic also contributes to climate breakdown...

Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil and even coal).

Our reliance on plastic therefore prolongs our demand for these dirty fuels. Which is why we're working with other organisations to reduce plastic across all sectors, from supermarkets to stadiums.

A seagull picks a plastic crisp packet from the sea

Help stop plastics choking our oceans

End plastic pollution now

Green energy

We need to end our reliance on extractive fossil fuel industries.

Here in the UK, we've got colossal renewable energy resources like wind, wave and solar to help us lower our climate-changing emissions.

What's more, with the right investment by government, the transition to renewable energy could create thousands of jobs.

Man installing solar panel
Sustainable farming: Cows in a biodiverse field

Food and sustainable farming

Intensive farming is linked to loss of wildlife, soil and water pollution, and poor animal welfare.

We don't need factory farms, loads of chemicals or genetically modified seeds to feed a growing population. There are more climate-friendly ways to do things.

Sustainable farming: Cows in a biodiverse field
Crowd of people walking along a pavement with shopping bags


The world's richest countries consume on average 10 times as many materials as the poorest. It's grossly unequal. Many of the world's population hardly see a peep of these resources.

North America and Europe have by far the biggest material footprints on the planet. The UK is hugely dependent on other countries’ minerals, raw materials, water and land.

If everyone lived like the average US citizen, we'd need around 4 Earths to sustain ourselves – according to data produced by the Global Footprint Network.

Crowd of people walking along a pavement with shopping bags

Resource consumption facts

10 times
more consumption by the richest countries than the poorest 
80 million rugby pitches
The amount of foreign land the UK depends on to support its annual consumption of agricultural and forestry products
One third
of all food produced across the globe is lost or wasted
20 tonnes
3 tonnes
(not even that) The average annual material consumption of an African