Ideas for a brighter future for all

Does your company perpetuate a world we want to live in?

Some considerations for management to shift to Future Normal

Placing tongues firmly in cheek; we did it, well done us, well done humanity, we beat the target by a long way. We hit Earth Overshoot Day 2022 in the first part of quarter three (Q3) when we should have hit it at the end of quarter four (Q4), the end of the year.

This year, 2022, we tied with the previous global record set in 2018, when overshoot day was also the 28th of July. Tying with our performance of four years ago means we are back to pre-pandemic pace, and likely to be back on trend to make overshoot day earlier and earlier. If we keep up the tempo, we should soon be able to hit a date in the first half of the year; this would be transformative as we would be able to hit earth overshoot twice in one year!

"Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year. "

Moving away from the irony, Earth Overshoot Day 2022 marks the date when we humans have a footprint that exceeds the biocapacity of the earth. Thus, our demand for resources exceeds the capacity of ecosystems to meet that demand. Those ecosystems are driven by, for example, water availability, solar energy, climate, soil fertility and ultimately photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process we learnt about in school, which produces the oxygen you are breathing right now as you read this piece.

So, July the 28th 2022, we are now at a rate of 1.75 earths in terms of our footprint exceeding biocapacity, demand exceeding supply. This is not prudent management and to be clear and obvious, to use the biocapacity up so early in the year is somewhat analogous to a manager in a company using their annual budget up by the end of month seven rather than the end of month twelve. Such an outcome would not be lauded as excellent work by company executives, rather it would be met with a departmental review and some probing questions, such as:

  1. Do we need to allocate more budget?
  2. Are we creating too much demand and or do we need to manage demand to supply?
  3. Do we have the right manager? 
  4. Are we measuring what matters?
Earth Overshoot Day by Country

Leaning on the analogy but turning back to Earth Overshoot Day and dealing with the four questions.

Question one, the Earth is an essentially materially closed system, hence we cannot allocate more budget per se, but we could improve our management of what we have through for example reducing soil erosion, reducing pollution, and reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. These initiatives and more are encoded in the sustainable development goals and their associated targets.

Turning to question two, we could reduce demand, not one of us has consumed our way to happiness, no matter what the adverts say. With reduced demand and improved ecosystems, we may be able to make biocapacity more closely match footprint, that is make demand equal to supply, thus reach an equilibrium.

The third question, this one is a little more intractable. In short, there are no other managers who are available, it is down to us humans, we must manage ourselves on our Earth and accept the responsibility of that. Furthermore, it is not clear we would be comfortable outsourcing the management of earth to another species, albeit one might argue another species could hardly do a worse job.

Hence, question four and incentives. It is perhaps clear given our inability to manage our budget and the mess we are making, wildfires in Europe, rising greenhouse gas emissions and evermore degraded surroundings, as outlined in Australia’s most recent State of the Environment Report, that we need to shift to measures that matter.  

As when we step back, the key tool we use to shape our world and inform our wants is companies, and their incentive is financial growth. Likewise, at a national level we measure progress through economic data, such as national income or gross domestic product, again with pressure to increase income and grow. Consequently, if the incentive is to grow, hitting the 28th of July, being back at pre-pandemic levels, hitting overshoot earlier next year, this is success.  However, this is not a situation we want, it would be more sensible to live as if there is one earth and hit overshoot day at the end of the year. Yet there is evidence that growth doesn’t necessarily improve wellbeing, and surely it is wellbeing that matters.

Does your company perpetuate a world we want to live in?

We need to change and shift the date of overshoot to the end of the year. Thankfully there are many things we can do.  At the level of the everyday, for example:

  • if we cut food waste in half, we could increase Earth Overshoot Day by 13 days,
  • if we ate a few more plants and a bit less meat, we could increase Earth Overshoot Day by a further 17 days, and,
  • if we used a bike or public transport more often, we could add 13 days.

Outside of these acts, we could write to our parliamentary representatives and ask what they are doing and, perhaps more importantly, we could write to the CEOs of the brands we like and ask them what their companies are doing. 

In turn, we could ask them to consider the Future Normal approach – asking them four questions of reflection and consideration that helps to make their companies act meaningfully in their surroundings and purposefully to benefit society.

The first question is simple – does your company perpetuate a world we want to live in?  For the most part, the answer is no, the numbers are in, Earth Overshoot Day this year is 156 days early.

We need to manage ourselves better and there are things we can do and questions we can ask of the brands and companies we like, so that we can shift to a Future Normal, where we turn the tide and push Earth Overshoot Day back to where it belongs, 31 December.

Authors

Professor Nick BarterNick Barter is a Professor at Griffith Business School and co-founder of Future Normal, a strategic framework that enables organisations to act meaningfully in their surroundings and purposefully to benefit society. A strategist by training Nick advises and researches with organisations domestically and internationally.

Professor Chris FlemingChris Fleming is Professor of Economics and Dean (Research) at the Griffith Business School. Formerly the Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism (2020-2021) and Director of Griffith University’s MBA program (2015-2020). Chris teaches, researches, consults and provides public policy advice on the economic determinants of well-being and the sustainable management of the world around us. Chris is also co-founder of Future Normal, a strategic framework that enables organisations to act meaningfully in their surroundings and purposefully to benefit society.

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