Earth Overshoot Day is a global campaign which marks the date of when human consumption of ecological resources and services exceeds what Earth can produce in that year. Two of our sustainability and circular economy leads, Dr. Anumitra Mirti and Debbie O’Byrne, share how we as an industry and society can #movethedate.
The global and individual country dates are scientifically calculated by the and serve as a stark reminder of how our limited biological resources can’t keep up with the rapid pace of our consumer habits. The 2022 global overshoot date fell on 28 July (one day earlier than the 2021 date). Worryingly, some were significantly earlier than that, particularly those in advanced western economies.
This year Australia has reached its threshold on 23 March (the same as last year) and New Zealand has also stayed at its date of 19 April for another year. This comes after New Zealand's huge jump from 15 May in 2020 to 19 April in 2021. For context and comparison, this year the United States’ date was 13 March, the United Kingdom’s date will fall on 19 May and China’s will be on 2 June. Below this article is a full range of other country dates.
This raises challenging questions about intergenerational justice and our current consumption patterns. It also creates a serious and urgent need to rethink what we consume and how to change our thinking, and most importantly our behaviour.
Despite growing interest in sustainable, responsible consumer behaviour and a circular economy, there is a lot of work to do. And we in the infrastructure sector hold a lot of the solutions.
Unfortunately, we are still operating in siloes with the way we build, design and where we source material for delivery. We are trying to fit circular solutions into the linear model that was built for short-term efficiency instead of long-term resilience; single use of materials rather than cascading cycles; and very narrow measures of success (such as GDP).
To #movethedate, Earth Overshoot Day requires systemic change which involves something in short supply: systems thinking. Western culture is optimising components of our system for profit (departments, organisations, regions, nations), leading to sub-optimal outcomes for the ecosystem. If you would like to know more about this topic, we can recommend Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows or The Goal by Eli Goldratt.
As a company, we are exploring how a circular economy approach can provide the necessary systems thinking, tools and metrics to help our clients #movethedate. We are regularly asking our 3,800+ people how they can apply the following key principles of a circular economy to the varied projects and challenges that Beca works on with our clients:
- Design Out Waste & Pollution (including carbon);
- Keep Materials Cycling in the system now and in the future; and
- Regenerate Natural Systems.
Rising to this challenge, Beca has created a Circular Design Framework to respond to these aspirations. The framework provides guidance on how to integrate the three circular economy principles, as well as embed cultural perspectives; create socio-economic benefits; and respond to the need for resilience and adaption to climate change in the delivery of our projects. This approach is helping to provide our people, and our clients, with the tools/structure to shift from a sustainable to regenerative mindset.
The Circular Design Framework comprises six principles as shown below.
System change is not something that can be achieved by any single organisation in isolation. All parties need to shift their thinking, change priorities and redesign KPIs so they are aligned with a planet-first philosophy. To that end, at Beca we will be collaborating with other organisations and startups who are pioneering innovation in asking system-level questions, so we’re part of driving the change required to give our young people a chance at a future worth aspiring to.
We all have a collective and personal responsibility to tread more lightly on our planet, and to ensure that we use our national Earth Overshoot Day as a starting point for meaningful conversations about meaningful change.
Learn more about Earth Overshoot Day, including the myriad solutions that we can all get behind, here: https://www.overshootday.org/. More information about Beca’s broad Sustainability offering can be read here.
Image Credit: https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/country-overshoot-days/