Balancing the Earth’s Budget

Humanity is currently using natural resources faster than they can be renewed, and according to data from Global Footprint Network, on August 21, 2010 our demand will exceed the ecological services that nature can provide this year. We will reach ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, which is resulting in serious consequences for the planet. It has taken humanity less than nine months to exhaust its ecological budget for the year –from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food.

Did you know? The average Ecological Footprint per person in the United States is 9 global hectares (22.5 global acres), the equivalent of about eight full-sized soccer fields. This compares to countries such as Pakistan, Congo and Haiti, which have an average Ecological Footprint of slightly more than one global hectare (half a global acre).

How is this calculated? Every year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint – the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, including CO2  emissions. It is then compared with biocapacity, the ability of ecosystems to regenerate resources. Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by U.K.-based new economics foundation, is calculated from 2007 data (the most recent year for which data are available) and projections based on historical rates of growth in population and consumption, as well as the historical link between world GDP and resource demand. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was observed on September 25, 2009. This year, overshoot day is estimated to come more than a month earlier in the year. This is not due to a sudden change in human demand, but rather to improvements in the calculation methodology that enable us to more adequately capture the extent of overshoot.

How big brands can help save biodiversity

For the last decade, we have been converting natural habitat for food production at the rate of 0.6% per year. But the Earth’s resources are finite, and if we continue to expand into natural habitat at the current rate there will be very little left by 2050. Increasing pressure on the Earth´s natural resources is not just linked to the rising global demand for food, fiber and fuel, but also to where and how global industries and their supply chains “source” commodities for example, the global consumption of round wood is expected to triple by 2050; meat consumption in East Asia will double to 80kg per person per year by 2050; and three-quarters of all global fisheries are fished at, or beyond, capacity.

In July this year, Jason Clay, spoke at TEDGlobal, Oxford UK about ‘How big brands can help save biodiversity’. By convincing 100 key companies to go sustainable, global markets will shift to protect the planet our consumption has already outgrown. Watch the video to hear how WWF is getting big brands to agree on responsible and sustainable practices –before their products hit store shelves.

Partnering with major companies, financial institutions and their supply chains, WWF is influencing the way global commodities are produced, traded and financed. We are working on key commodities such as palm oil, soy, cotton, sugarcane, timber, pulp and paper, seafood, and bioenergy sources, illustrating how they can be sourced more efficiently and responsibly on a large scale, at little or no extra cost. Engagement is through:

  • Multi-stakeholder engagements, such as roundtables, market standards and certification
  • One-to-one engagements with companies
  • Commodity finance, such as investment screening processes and producer financing

The result is increased demand for sustainable products, where markets can be ‘tipped’ and positive environmental outcomes delivered. By engaging partners globally to ensure our commodity footprint is in step with a living planet, businesses and markets can offer products that safeguard the Earth’s biodiversity wealth and contribute to sustainable and economic development.

Stay tuned: In October 2010, WWF will launch the Living Planet report, and provide a science-based analysis on the State of the Planet. WWF will make suggestions on how the choices we make can bring us back to a sustainable path for the benefit of human well-being and nature.

Learn more

WWF Market TransformationWWF Expert, Jason Clay, Senior Vice President, WWFVideo: Change the way you think
Video Case Study: WWF working in the Mesoamerican Reef

To learn more about Earth Overshoot Day, visit

Source: Global Footprint Network