As of today, our demands on the Earth’s ecological resources have surpassed what the planet can regenerate in 2023. And in a year of extreme environmental alarms, regenerating our planet’s finite resources has never been more critical.
July was officially the hottest month in recorded history. And not just in those parts of the world experiencing a blistering summer, but across the other side of the planet too, where winter averages in Australia were 2-6 degrees Celsius above historical measurements. Climate change and the underlining influence humanity has on it is no longer ‘if and when’, but ‘here and now’.
What’s more, we know it isn’t just about the weather. Humanity’s effect on the natural environment goes beyond that. Earth Overshoot Day, calculated every year by Global Footprint Network, is a confronting annual milestone to understanding the escalating challenges we face. Each year the date is determined by dividing the planet's biocapacity by humanity's ecological footprint and multiplying by 365. Over the last 50 years, this day has moved up from December to August. At the same time, global population has experienced a significant surge of 121% increase since 1970, putting immense pressure on the Earth and highlighting the urgency for us all to act – especially business.
With sixty per cent of humanity's ecological footprint generated by carbon emissions from various human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, it is important that we accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy and society. Shifting to renewable energy is and combating the impact of limited resources must be a priority for business as it looks to make the move to a people and planet-positive model of operation. Without business and its leaders delivering accelerated action, the negative effects on the planet, society and their own bottom-lines will only increase.
Moving from mitigation to regeneration
Climate change is already with us, and reversing the effects we are experiencing now will not be simple. To generate positive impact, businesses and their leaders should be looking at two interlocked strategies to address the challenges posed by our environmental impact: mitigation and regeneration.
Mitigation, which involves proactive measures to minimise environmental impact, has rightly been much of the focus around environmental issues to date. By identifying and transparently addressing impacts across a business’ value chain, such as energy consumption, waste generation, and carbon emissions and enhancing eco-efficiency, organisations are taking the first step towards good growth. Essential to this process is transparency and data sharing (see Europe Delivers new report on this area) which is a requirement to decarbonise complex systems. Sharing data between organisations enables systems to be assessed and impact address as a whole, not in pieces. Helping entire value chains embrace renewable energy sources (for example Apple and its global suppliers working towards net zero by 2030), optimise resource use, and adopt circular economy models. For businesses this is important as it isn’t just about ‘doing good’. Growing awareness and concern over sustainability means that the organisations that promote environmental stewardship will be best placed to lead markets in the future, enhance their brand reputations, attract eco-conscious consumers, and sharpen a competitive edge.
But mitigation is no longer enough – we now need to urgently move beyond, onto ways of doing business that repair and enhance the natural world. While not as well-known a concept as mitigation, regenerative business will be critical to the future of all businesses within our lifetimes. A holistic strategy, it aims to restore and revitalise ecosystems rather than merely minimise harm – challenging that traditional "take, make, dispose" model by emphasising circularity and balance, seeking to amplify positive impacts on the environment and society.
Implementing regenerative practices mean balancing commercial objectives alongside environmental impacts (such as biodiversity, soil health, and carbon sequestration, contributing to a net-positive ecological footprint) as equal partners. This could include adopting circular economy principles for responsible sourcing, Patagonia is a leader in this space; minimising product waste or prolonging the lifespan of products, reducing water consumption, and limiting emissions, while improving water quality and responsible waste management. Dilmah Tea, for example, is investing in the establishment of natural corridors to enhance biodiversity and conserve natural habitats in Sri Lanka.
Embracing a regenerative model not only safeguards against risks but generates planet-positive gains and positions organisations as responsible, forward-thinking, and enduring force in the sustainable business landscape.
Good growth is good for business
Governments around the world are recognising the urgency of environmental challenges and imposing stricter regulations to protect the planet's resources. Meaning businesses must be proactive in understanding and complying with evolving regulations. Embracing sustainable practices, such as regenerative models, demonstrates corporate responsibility and shields businesses from potential investor, legal or financial repercussions that can result from non-compliance; and can even open new market opportunities. Meanwhile at the other end of the value chain, consumers and investors are increasingly seeking out environmentally responsible businesses to align with their values. Over the last five years, a significant 85% of people worldwide have reported adjusting their purchasing behaviour to prioritise sustainability.
Earth Overshoot Day is a clear reminder that ignoring our impact on resource consumption will not only lead to a darker planetary future but destroy economic value and cause crises within society. Embracing sustainability is an ethical obligation as well as a strategic imperative that can lead to long-term success in an increasingly environmentally conscious world. With the strategies discussed here taken together, businesses that actively strive for and demonstrate positive environmental impact will be future-fit, adaptable, resilient, and additive to the natural world.
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