July 29 was Earth Overshoot Day, the day by which we will have used up all of earth’s ecological resources and services for 2021. We are over budget. We are living in a way that will prevent our children and their children from satisfying their needs. For the past 50 years and from wanton depletion, we have been living beyond our means.
According to the Global Footprint Network, the world needs 1.6 to 1.73 worlds to satisfy current consumption patterns. For Saint Lucia specifically, the calculated ecological footprint in 2017 in terms of earths required is 2.5. For the Barbados 3.7, Antigua & Barbuda 4.3, Jamaica 1.8, USA 5.03, UK 2.63.
Not only is the ecological footprint (resource consumption) unsustainable (beyond the biocapacity of the earth), so are the consequences we are creating. Earth is projected to continue warming beyond what has been deemed acceptable. Biodiversity and other ecosystem elements that life depends on are diminishing rapidly.
Huge inequalities, and social ills are evident and growing.
It’s not new or a surprise – but this time could be different
Scientists have been saying it for at least 50 years. They warned that our environmental impact would result in pandemics caused by viruses from animal populations jumping into human populations. This has now happened (again) in a way that affects us all. Global warming and pollution are escalating, and biodiversity is being lost at a dramatic rate. Weather patterns will continue to change with massive consequences.
The past 1.5 years of pandemic have not only caused incredible loss of life and hardships but brought two underlying and related factors into plain sight:
- Our current socio-economic systems are not, as a whole, producing the results we want. Deep and institutionalized inequalities, including huge levels of poverty, are visible and increasing. Higher levels of crime are just symptoms. In some instances, we are barely holding things together, and politicians breathe sighs of relief if people are not rioting. (Riots have broken out in Cuba and South Africa this week.)
- We are currently actively destroying the very basis on which our present and future wellbeing depends - Nature. In 22 years, between 1992 and 2014, we have increased human capital per person by 13% globally, but the stock of natural capital per person has declined by 40%.
Blackrock, the world’s largest investment firm, has changed tack. It is clear to them that all is at stake. You cannot diversify out of the risk anymore. They are calling on all their portfolio firms to now deliver more than profits; deliver their purpose.
How not to waste a crisis
The pandemic is far from over. But those parts of the world where vaccines are available and administered to a sufficiently large part of population - soon this will include T&T – will be able to open up again. And here is the inclement danger, back to business-as-usual, but it does not have to be like that.
There are signs of hope. At a global level there are now massive movements of reform that are gathering steam. At the local level, there are some individuals and organizations who are seeking to lead through action, but collectively the process probably has not yet started in earnest because alignment with nature is not yet a fundamental priority.
The Purpose Economy
We are part of Nature. Nature is not separate and external to us. This is a principle that should be core to education systems, not now being discovered in boardrooms and corporations.
Every organization should identify, articulate, and be held accountable for creating profitable solutions to meaningful problems of people and planet in a way that contributes and advances the long-term wellbeing of all. All organizations must ensure, and be held accountable, to not gain from creating harm for people or planet.
To this end, governing bodies of all organizations need to first establish and then assure themselves that the organizations they govern are staying within these parameters, and relevant stakeholders need to be able assure themselves and hold organizations to account.
The transition to a purpose economy, a nature-positive economy, will create new opportunities and challenges for all sectors of society – corporate, government, and civil society. All three sectors are necessary for the social system and its components to function. Each one of us, every organization, can and will need to ensure that we are not consuming more than Nature can supply and that our actions are regenerating and increasing the supply that Nature has to offer.
Minimizing harm is not enough – and that is not where the opportunities are. The opportunity is in finding profitable solutions to problems and thereby create diversified and resilient economies, societies, and Nature. What is required is innovation; not innovation to maintain the status quo.
In this way, we can transform our socio-economic system where our engagement with Nature is sustainable but also produce the wellbeing results we are seeking, today and in the future.
This article is part of the "Purpose with Profit" series. An earlier version of the article was published in the Corporate Sustainability Review 2021 - Protecting Human Capital.