Ecological Footprint Supply Chains Resource SystemsSustainable Life Media kicked off Sustainable Brands Boot Camp – Seasons 2 with an in-depth presentation, “Understanding Ecological Overshoot”, on the world’s ecological balance sheet.

by Aysu Katun, Green Economy Post

Susan Burns, sustainability expert and CEO of Global Footprint Network, gave an in-depth presentation on the world’s ecological balance sheet in the first session of Sustainable Life Media’s Sustainable Brands Boot Camp – Season 2.

The session, “Understanding Ecological Overshoot”, focused on the looming problem facing businesses and societies in an increasingly resource-constrained world as many developing and developed nations are increasing their consumption, and becoming “Ecological Debtors”, countries where national consumption has outstripped their country’s biological capacity.

The Global Footprint Network uses a tool called the “Ecological Footprint” to determine which nations are ecological debtors and which are ecological creditors. The Ecological Footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water to meet the demand for resources a population consumes and absorb the corresponding waste. It compares human demand on nature with the biosphere’s ability to regenerate resources and provide services. By doing so, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle and examine to what extent a nation uses more (or less) than is available within its territory.

According to the Global Footprint Network, 81 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that use more resources than what is renewably available within their own borders. These countries rely for their needs on resource surpluses concentrated in ecological creditor countries, which use less biocapacity than they have.

Burns stated that turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources is what causes global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend. According to moderate UN scenarios, if current population and consumption trends continue, there could be a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century since at that time we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. Ecological overshoot also contributes to resource conflicts and wars, mass migrations, famine, disease and other human tragedies.

Since we do not have two Earths, how do we create a society where all people can live well within the means of one planet?

Burns suggested that three changes need to be made by 2050:

  1. Moving the bars: getting more out of the planet (e.g. enhancing bio-productivity)
  2. Limbo-dancing: discovering how we can have sustainable consumption, eco efficiency and closed loops
  3. Leap-frogging: developing solutions that improve people’s quality of life without the old trend towards resource consumption

To make these changes happen, the Global Footprint Network has developed the following programs that are designed to influence decision makers at all levels of society to bring about new solutions and spark a global dialogue about ecological limits.

  • The Ten-in-Ten campaign engages national governments to establish the Ecological Footprint as a prominent, globally accepted metric as ubiquitous as the GDP.
  • Programs for cities support cities in planning their adaptation for an ecologically constrained future. The Ecological Footprint tracks a city or region’s demand on biocapacity, and compares their demand with the amount of biocapacity available. This sheds light on the region’s constraints or future liabilities, and identifies opportunities to defend or improve the local quality of life.
  • Programs for businesses provide data on ecological constraints and help the world’s business leaders predict risks, and see opportunities in leading the charge for a resource-efficient future.
  • Programs for countries assist national governments in assessing the value of their country’s ecological assets, identifying the risks associated with ecological deficits, setting policy that makes safeguarding resources a top priority and measuring progress toward their goals.
  • The Sustainable Human Development initiative is developed to define what it really means to meet human needs while maintaining natural capital.

Programs like these are expected to redirect investments toward making sustainable human development a reality.

“It is possible to develop solutions and pathways that take us on-track to a sustainable world by 2050 through major and mutually supporting changes in how we run our societies, industry, economy, policy, lifestyles and values” said Burns.

The full presentation including questions and answers, video, and PDF slides are available on-demand to participants of the Boot Camp Series.

© 2010, Aysu Katun. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Aysu Katun (18 Articles)

Aysu Katun is an associate editor at the Green Economy Post. She received her MBA degree from The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, where she focused on sustainability, marketing and strategy. At Fisher, she was a leading member of Net Impact's OSU chapter, which won the Chapter of the Year Award in 2009 . Before beginning her MBA, Aysu worked at Hewlett Packard in Turkey. A passionate traveler, Aysu has been to 27 countries and worked in three. Due to her international experience, Aysu is able to bring a unique perspective to sustainability issues in business.

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