On 27 September 2011 humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. The planet has moved into environmental overdraft territory with little hope of balancing it’s budget this year.
Nature, just like any corporation can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste each year. The problem is our demands on nature are exceeding what it is capable of providing and putting at risk the critical life-supporting systems which we all depend on for our very existence.
This year the date of 27th September 2011, symbolised the day of the year when peoples demands exceeded the Earth’s ability to supply resources and absorb the demands placed upon it. The date changes each year depending upon the natural resources being consumed in that year.
The first “ecological debt day” fell on Saturday 19th December 1987, but economic and population growth has seen it fall earlier each year.
1987 – 19 December1990 – 7 December1995 – 21 November2000 – 1 November2005 – 11 October2006 – 9 October2011 – 27 September
The interesting manner in which to describe the impact humanity has on the planet and the data to support the findings was produced by a US-based think-tank, Global Footprint Network.
Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, the nations responsible for incurring this environmental overdraft or overshoot on behalf of the global population are developed and developing countries.
Do we fit on the planet?
Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.
Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030′s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.
Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overdraft or overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.
Can the Planet feed us?
The recent rapid increase in human population over the past two centuries has raised concerns that humans are beginning to overpopulate the Earth, and that the planet may not be able to sustain present or larger numbers of inhabitants. The population has been growing continuously since the end of the Black Death, around the year 1400; at the beginning of the 19th century, it had reached roughly 1,000,000,000 (1 Billion).
The United Nations indicated Monday 31st October 2011 as the day world population hit 7 billion. Many find the Halloween date appropriate given the frightening prospect of this demographic milestone. As if 7 billion weren’t scary enough, the U.N. projects 10 billion people by 2083, the addition of roughly three more Indias.
The findings are based on the concept of “ecological footprints”, a system of measuring how much land and water a human population needs to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the resulting waste.
Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network’s executive director, Mathis Wackernagel, said humanity was living off its “ecological credit card” and was “liquidating the planet’s natural resources”. “While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to the depletion of resources, such as forests, oceans and agricultural land, upon which our economy depends,” Mr Wackernagel said.
Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy (Ecipe), a Brussels-based think tank, said he applauded the authors on their innovative way of focusing attention to the issue of resource depletion.
“When it comes to using footprints as a way to follow the micro effects of various economic behaviours on the environment, it can be quite good,” Mr Erixon said. However, he added that history had shown that technological advances had led to more efficient uses of natural resources, and had sustained economic growth.
Efficiency holds the solution
Just as efficiencies in production and agricultural processes has enabled global population to grow 7 fold in less than two hundred years, humanity has the capability and technology to drive efficiencies into the use of the Earth’s resources and reduce the waste we force it to process.
However, the political will has been lacking to provide an international context within which this capability and technology can be applied to the challenge. The most notable being the US refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and more recently the difficulties in getting broad international agreement on a new Kyoto II Protocol.
Consumers providing the Context, Business fear the Risk
The consumer dimension offers both opportunity and risk. Today’s consumers know, and care more about what they buy, how it is made, what it is made from, how far it travels and how it is packaged.
The way consumers gather and share information has also changed; they are empowered and linked as never before by the internet. Information can spread globally in an instant. The consequences of being found to be operating unethically, or in an environmentally unfriendly manner, can be damaging and long-term to businesses.
Equally important to retail and consumer goods businesses are the operational, cost and regulatory impacts of sustainability issues. These are having tangible effects upon every aspect of the business model, from the availability and price of raw materials to the types of products on the shelf and beyond. Those organisations moving first and fastest, are building sustainable solutions that create value. These leaders are starting to change the rules of the game. The risks of being left behind are becoming too great to ignore.
Sustainability issues are higher on the UK consumer agenda than ever before. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) commissioned independent research into the attitudes and habits of 4,000 UK consumers and the results clearly demonstrate the existence of mainstream public awareness and concern about sustainability issues.
Over 60% of consumers stated that sustainability issues (climate change, poverty, food and water shortages) were the most important issues facing the world. When asked about climate change, 80% said they were ‘worried’. Drivers of awareness and concern are varied. The ordinary and everyday are being impacted and consumers are feeling economic pressure in food, fuel and utility prices. In addition they are seeing increased volatility in global and local weather patterns.
Awareness has clearly been influenced by an explosion of media coverage. The number of articles appearing in the mainstream national UK press has increased ten-fold over the past decade and doubled between 2005 and 2007. This awareness and concern is motivating action and changing behaviour. When asked if they had made significant changes to their lifestyle over the past two years as a result of their environmental concerns, 75% of the population claimed they had.
Corporate Collaboration is Key
Businesses are beginning to exploit the opportunities presented by current consumer sentiment by searching for opportunities to reduce waste, packaging, energy use, water and to identify and understand the environmental and ethical risks embedded within their supply chain with respect to the same. Businesses are beginning to compete not only for access to resources, but on their ability to extract the maximum value and reuse of the resources they consume.Mark Kearns – CEO Nootrol Nootrol uncovers and identifies risk in supply chains. Our world class Green Procurement and Sustainable Supply Chain platform enables customers and suppliers to collaborate, share and discover sustainability hotspots within their supply chains in real time.