Dirty hands. A fingerprint of the Netherlands in the global economy

The Netherlands is a major consumer, producer and transit country for raw materials and products that have a substantial environmental footprint elsewhere. This study examines the country’s role in the global flow of goods in two product categories: food products and fossil fuels. First the share of over 400 product flows in these two categories in production, consumption, import and export was established. For the 60 most important product flows Life Cycle Assessment was then used to determine the footprint with respect to climate impact, land use and water use.

The study distinguishes three roles of the Netherlands in the international flow of goods:

  1. As a producer: the country is a major producer of environmentally damaging goods, in particular motor fuels (climate), natural gas (climate), gasoil (climate), animal feed (climate, land and water use), beef (climate, land use) and refined palm oil (climate, land and water use).
  2. As a consumer: in this study consumption is taken to encompass both intermediate consumption by industry and final consumption by private consumers. 
  3. As a facilitator in international trade flows: Dutch companies import and export products with environmental impacts both domestically and abroad, as well as playing a role in the financing of production and trading activities with a major environmental footprint. Although a precise estimate of this impact is unfeasible, this study examines imports and exports of environmentally products as a proxy.