According to the Global Footprint Network, which is the organisation behind Earth Overshoot Day and individual country overshoot days, “Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” The organisation also says “A country’s overshoot day is the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in this country.”
What do you do?
I’m the founder and director of Little Blue Research Limited, which helps companies to measure their impact and dependencies on society and the environment. My background is in environmental economics, I’ve worked in the sustainability space for more than 15 years and I am due to join IEMA’s upcoming Network on Biodiversity and Natural Capital as a steering group member.
What does your organisation do?
Little Blue is a sustainability consultancy which is just over 6 years old.
We have three different services – impact and dependency measurement, strategy and risk, and research and training. For impacts and dependency, we produce natural capital accounts. Regarding strategy, this can be all sorts of things, from helping organisations to create frameworks to account for climate risk, or developing natural capital banking risk assessments. And in terms of research, this covers teaching and course development. We developed a course for We Value Nature, and I also lectured on the Natural Capital Leaders Lab for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).
Can you explain what overshoot means?
My understanding is that it’s when we have used more ecological resources than our planet can provide sustainably within a given year. In the context of overshoot day – it’s the day in the year when we have exceeded our one planet’s worth of ecological resources and gone on to take more.
What models or systems of knowledge, for example, are useful to help people understand overshoot?
Some of my favourites are the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and Science Based Targets Network (SBTN). Both look at what you do as a company and what your allocation of ecological resources is, according to a variety of factors (i.e. for the SBTi, carbon is the focus and for the SBTN, nature-based resources are the focus). Ideally, you wouldn’t want to go over the ecological resources allocated for the type and size of the company. The tools help to evaluate how companies make decisions about ecological resource use and set targets.
There’s a vast array of models and processes for quantifying and accounting for sustainable resource use and a lot of them are clustering together, increasing harmonization.
Natural capital accounting is another really interesting way of presenting large sets of data relating to impacts and dependencies on nature through the use of environmental economics via natural capital income statements and balance sheets. It’s the presentation of nature’s values in a systematic way which can be linked and used with information from financial accounting. I was involved in the BSI (British Standards Institution) work to create a new standard on natural capital accounting for organisations, called ‘BS 8632’. It’s a bit of a game-changer – it doesn’t dictate which valuations you should do, rather it recommends a set of processes and ways of presenting the information you gather.
How does the UK compare to other countries?
That’s a difficult question. We tend to work with clients who operate across borders and so it makes more sense for us to have a global view of ecological resource use. For example, there’s a lot of conversation happening at the moment in the UK about accounting for our Scope 3 emissions – those emissions which often take place outside of our borders but which contribute to the production of goods and services which are consumed in the UK. This extends to looking at water dependency, dependency on agricultural land and pressure on ecosystem services in the supply chain which we look at for clients.
Why is overshoot bad?
If you think about it in terms of your own money, overshoot means we are no longer living off the interest of a big pot of savings, rather we are drawing down on our natural capital savings account. It means future generations having less access to natural resources. We need restoration and regeneration to build up our natural capital stocks now, rather than continuing to deplete them. Some people consider this a movement towards being 'nature positive’.
Can the UK address its own overshoot problem?
There are some companies in the UK which are moving towards being nature positive by setting specific targets. Unsurprisingly, some companies are finding this challenging given prevailing economic challenges.
We tend to run pilots for clients internally at their companies which can illustrate the benefits to people, the planet and the company’s profits of using a more holistic approach. It takes time to develop them, but given that time is running out, organisations like IEMA are key to providing professionals with the skills that are necessary to make these changes happen.
Can you expand a bit further on the social implications of overshoot?
There’s the idea of a just transition. We certainly aren’t there in terms of delivering one just yet and people risk getting left behind when new announcements are made about various forms of environmental action. If you don’t take society with you, there’s going to be friction between the people who want the change and the people on whom it’s being imposed upon.
I see hope in all this, I’m a very optimistic person and I see more and more ambition and action in the environmental space at the moment. It will take time to address all our issues but I think we’re reaching a point where more people appreciate the scale and urgency of the challenges ahead.
Posted on 19th May 2022
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