Earth Overshoot Day 2021: how businesses can tread lighter

Most of us know the feeling of having too much month at the end of the money. But this Thursday will mark the moment when there is too much of 2021 left for the earth to sustainably handle.

Earth Overshoot Day is the point in the year at which human activity has used up all the natural resources that the earth can regenerate in that year. This year it falls on 29 July. The date changes depending on how greedily we have been hoovering up global resources, but since the first earth overshoot was recorded in 1970, the overall trend has been for it to keep getting earlier.

Using more resources than the earth can replenish and creating more waste than it can process means that we have been borrowing from our future selves for the past 51 years. That is why there is a campaign to reverse the trend so that Earth Overshoot Day will start arriving later.

“Our best chance for a prosperous future”

The #MoveTheDate campaign advocates a raft of changes, covering aspects of life from food production to transport planning, and does not see them as incompatible with economic growth. In fact, #MoveTheDate describes the transformation required as “economically beneficial and our best chance for a prosperous future”.

Businesses wanting to be part of this transformation may find that they can make the greatest difference by focusing on energy. Research done on behalf of the campaign has found that Earth Overshoot Day could be 21 days later if the world decarbonised its energy supply and implemented a comprehensive retrofitting programme to make buildings more energy-efficient. Given that British buildings are older than the European average, we have even more potential than many other countries to make a difference by focusing on energy.

Switch supplier to reduce your carbon footprint

Individual businesses can decarbonise their energy consumption by getting their energy from renewable sources. The latest energy procurement guidance from the UK Green Building Council emphasises the concept of additionality: the way your energy is supplied should contribute to the creation of new renewable energy. You could do this through managing your own generation project or entering into a power purchase agreement directly with a generator, but the simplest way is to switch to a contract with what the UKGBC calls a “high quality green tariff”. That is, a tariff with a supplier who deals directly with renewable generators. Only a minority of “green” suppliers actually do this, so it is important to do your research and use a trusted energy risk manager to demystify the market.

As well as changing the source of their energy, businesses can reduce their consumption through improved energy efficiency measures. If your business is one of the 14,000 or so that come in scope of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), you will have already done the hard work of identifying potential efficiency measures as part of compliance. Many of the recommendations in your ESOS report will pay for themselves in a short time through reduced running costs.

Small changes, big difference

The researchers’ conclusion that we can save 21 days of planetary resources through changing our energy use is based on the assumption that everybody’s habits will stay exactly the same, so we could push Earth Overshoot Day further into the future through behavioural change. Could your business change the way it operates in order to make further energy savings? For example:

  • Continue to support remote working in order to spend less time heating and lighting the site.
  • Turn down the heating by just a degree or so to achieve big savings in the course of a year.
  • Encourage staff to break habits such as leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms, overfilling kettles and leaving computers on overnight.
  • Re-assess how the site is actually used and make sure that any heating or lighting programmes reflect the current reality – especially since Covid has changed many people’s working patterns.

Energy is the area where businesses can do most to slow the arrival of Earth Overshoot Day in future, but they can also help to support efforts in other areas. For example, although businesses can’t control the planning of our cities to make them less car-dependent, they can support employees and customers to leave the car at home. Converting a few car parking spaces to bike parking will send a message that your business supports cycling, as well as allowing eight people to park comfortably in the space previously occupied by one. Other possibilities include offering a train or bus season ticket as an employee perk and using your voice as a rate-paying business to encourage local planners to prioritise green travel.

The campaigners behind #MoveTheDate are clear that joining in the transformation required makes good business sense. They describe it as “the best strategy for the long-term success of any organization, including and especially businesses”. After all, how much profit can be made from a dead planet?