On December 7th, 1972, NASA’s Apollo 17 crew took photograph AS17-148-22727, better known as the Blue Marble. Seeing the Earth as a whole, comprehending it, and perceiving its fragility, was a game changer for the future of the planet and became the catalyst for the environmental movement of the 70s.
When confronted with issues of resource scarcity and climate change, many still find these issues either distant and impersonal, or overwhelming. That goes for individuals, organisations, and governments. Yet having conversations about these challenging issues is vital if we are to return our consumption to within the limits of the Earth’s annual regeneration capacity.
Earth Overshoot Day
Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are over-using resources (overshooting) and further degrading the natural world upon which we all rely.
In 2021, Earth Overshoot Day falls on 29 July, meaning that since the start of the year, our demand for resources is now already equivalent to the planet’s entire annual regeneration capacity. We are, in effect, using the resources of 1.7 Earths.
In 2020, the fall in world’s carbon emissions owing partially to COVID-19, pushed back the date of Earth Overshoot Day to August 22nd, showing us that change is possible. But this change will not be sustainable if the world economy returns back to business as usual.
|The formula for calculating our ecological footprint:|
Humanity’s Ecological Footprint
The Crux of the Issue
Overshoot occurs from the overuse of ecological assets, resulting in the degradation of the world’s ecosystems, including deforestation, biodiversity loss, water depletion, soil erosion, as well as the accumulation of waste and greenhouse gases. The impacts of our annual overshoot is already visible , as seen through food shortages, extinctions, and extreme weather events which this year alone have included: Texas snowstorms, extreme flooding across the globe, wildfires across Greece, and record temperatures yet again. Biodiversity loss is occurring more rapidly than at any other time in human history with resource consumption and associated land use responsible for 90% of biodiversity loss.
A Socially Just Transition. Who is responsible?
Resource consumption is highly unequal across the world with higher-income countries contributing the most to the over exploitation of resources. For most wealthy countries, where consumption is highest, earth overshoot day has already come and gone (in 2021, the date for the UK was May 19th).
Meanwhile, lower-income countries although contributing the least to the ecological crisis, are disproportionately negatively affected by the degradation of the natural world such as declines in agricultural production and food insecurity. The wealth of high-income countries generated primarily from the exploitation and degradation of natural resources, has created a buffer from the negative consequences they have created.
Wealthy countries and the company’s selling to them, consequently, have a responsibility to lead on bringing us back to operating within the earth’s ecological boundaries whilst supporting and enabling the social and economic development of lower-income countries.
“We are now the first generation that has the unequivocal accepted data at our fingertips and we are the last generation to do anything about it.“
What’s the Solution?
We have to remain self-aware, adaptive, and resilient to allow ourselves to operate well in a space that is uncertain. If we moved Earth Overshoot Day back 5 days a year from now until 2050, we would return back to within the planet’s limits. In order to move the date, governments, businesses and individuals alike must commit to living within the means of our planet with those who have contributed the most to the overshoot, taking accountability and leading a socially just sustainability transition.
Fortunately, many solutions already exist today to reverse our overshoot and support biological regeneration such as improving resource efficiency across operations and supply chains. We can look to many existing viable solutions, such as:
- Better waste management & circular economy applications
- Transparent and accountable supply chains
- Renewable energy transitions
- Low-carbon developments
How Anthesis Can Help
According to the UN’s Global Biodiversity Framework, all businesses should assess, report on, and reduce by at least half, their impacts on biodiversity. With resource extraction and associated land-use accounting for 90% of biodiversity loss, companies need to start mapping and reducing their use of extracted resources. Anthesis can help clients develop material footprint for their products, brands and corporate operations, and from that, start developing targeted reduction strategies.
As leaders in driving sustainable performance globally, we help clients to build their sustainability goals and commitments, as well as develop roadmaps for a Net Zero future. Our expertise and technological solutions support clients in realising their sustainability ambitions.
Read our UNGC Communication on Progress report – arguably, a list of our own pledges to support #movethedate. Being honest, benevolent and courageous in our commitment to the 10 UNGC principles – covering human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption – is essential to our continued improvement as an organisation.
Working together to solve global issues
A great example of this is the Game Console Voluntary Agreement founded by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in 2015. The competitive gaming giants came together to reduce the environmental impact of game consoles over their life-cycle and to achieve energy savings through better design. By putting their hands up and acknowledging that they are part of the problem, these manufacturers been able to make environmental commitments that cover the majority of the multi-billion dollar market.
A similar story can be told in relation to the long-term thinking of the Product Sustainability Round Table (PSRT), which Anthesis members organised for almost 25 years. The PSRT brought together sustainability experts from many of the world’s leading organisations to collaborate and learn from each other in a non-competitive environment.
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