Environmental sustainability isn’t an option anymore
By August 2nd 2017, the global population had already consumed the entire budget of natural resources available for the year. This meant that during the remaining five months, re-sources were used that our planet was not capable of regenerating. This grim event, known as Earth Overshoot Day, comes a couple of days earlier each year. In 2016 it occurred on August 8th, whereas in 2018, for the first time in human history, the depletion of the year’s water, earth, clean air and other resources will be complete in July. Each year, more days, weeks and then months of sustainable use will disappear, until we eventually reach a point of no return, where the regeneration of available resources is at zero.
Some populations are already affected by climate change: on tiny Pacific islands such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, thousands of people have been forced to abandon the coasts due to ris-ing sea levels, one of the main effects of global warming. Similar scenarios exist through-out the world, in places such as the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, which has lost 98% of its land due to rising sea levels and that only has 85 inhabitants today.
From the 70s onwards, the concept of sustainable development began to appear on the international agenda. Ecological matters were being given – at least on paper – the same importance as peace between states and economic growth. Yet in the following half century, savage exploitation of resources and a lack of interest in environmental issues appear to have guided decisions. Twentieth century industrial expansion and progress have made a worldwide commitment to environmental concerns necessary, while economic development has begun to change customs and lifestyles. We have increasingly become energy addicts; CO2 emissions pro capita have grown from 3.1 tons in the 1960s to 5 tons in 2013. The West is particularly culpable: while a US citizen produces the equivalent of 15 tons of CO2 per year, a citizen in Sub-Saharan Africa does not reach a single ton.
The global population is set to increase to 11 billion by 2100. Combined with the spread of Western lifestyles around the world, this points to a less than rosy future. Based on current development schemes, between two to six times the biological and environmental re-sources will be required to maintain satisfactory living conditions for this population. The issue isn’t progress in itself, more so the ways through which progress is pursued. New de-velopment models are needed, where green is not only an adjective but the mainstay of every type of investment made, and where the obsession with economic growth extends to the safeguarding the planet. This means engaging all segments of society and citizens in our collective responsibility.
Internationally, fields ranging from architecture to corporate policies, finance, transport and consumer goods have begun to mobilise. The market for ecologically sound construction properties – so-called bio-construction – has witnessed a boom in the past two years.
Several international brands are becoming sustainability ambassadors. This is the case with VF Corporation (which Timberland is part of). Its Swiss Italian headquarters are housed in an enormous environmentally friendly building in Stabio, which was awarded the “LEED Green Building Silver” certification for energy efficiency in 2016. The bioarchitectonic solu-tions adopted by the fashion giant have contributed to an energy efficiency increase of 41% compared to other buildings of similar dimensions. Moreover, VF has encouraged a series of initiatives involving the local community, in order to raise awareness on sustainability themes, by engaging employees, citizens, universities and trade associations. To promote more responsible forms of transport, VF has also constructed its building a few steps from the railway station.
VF is a great example of what a mix of bio-construction, corporate sustainability and green transport can achieve. And this last aspect is of particular importance where the protection of planet Earth’s resources is concerned: in recent years the market for emission-free vehi-cles has enjoyed solid growth. Today, new sources of sustainable fuels are being imple-mented, as alternatives to fossil fuels –cannabis is one such recent case. Not to mention the rising popularity of car and electric motorcycle sharing services, comparable to invest-ments in bike paths and bike sharing by administrative councils and new start-ups in the whole of Europe.
2017 has also witnessed the boom of socially responsible investments by asset manage-ment companies: research by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance has underlined that sustainable investments worldwide grew by 25% in 2016 (compared to 2014), reaching 22.890 billion dollars. Institutional and private investors are favouring listed entities gov-erned by sustainability criteria, rather than companies tethered to fossil fuels. This intensi-fies the pressure on companies to ensure socially responsible actions are taken: if once the lack of interest in environmental issues was the key to maximizing profits, today this strat-egy risks back-firing.
In finance, architecture, transport and consumer goods, a growing awareness of sustaina-bility issues does exist, although this is not enough to avert the tragic scenario we are head-ing towards. We are taking only delayed action and regardless how much noise environ-mental activists create, it remains a marginal issue. The creation of a development scheme where environment, wellbeing and social equality coexist in harmony should be a mere starting point.