As we are greeting the New Year, we want to take a moment to pause, thank our generous supporters and celebrate what we accomplished over the past 12 months. Here are the highlights.
A major milestone for us was the launch, last June in London, of Phase II of ERISC with our partners in the finance industry. Environmental Risk Integration in Sovereign Credit, a research project that seeks to quantify how environmental risk can impact the balance sheet of nations, is a joint program with the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. We are grateful to participating institutions Caisse des Dépôts, the European Investment Bank, First State Investments, HSBC, Kempen Capital Management, KfW and Standard & Poor’s, who embarked on that journey with us. We are looking forward to announcing first research results and findings in 2015.
On the policy front, we are happy to report that efforts to incorporate the Ecological Footprint into decision-making progressed in various parts of the world, including the Philippines, the province of Ontario and the state of Maryland. We are also grateful we were invited to hold Ecological Footprint workshops by the governments of Turkey, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Stay tuned for more developments in Morocco and the UAE in the new year.
WWF was a great partner again this year, with the publication of Russia's Ecological Footprint Report and the Living Planet Report, to which we were honored to contribute our Ecological Footprint accounting methodology. Media around the world publicized LPR's sobering findings regarding mankind's Ecological Footprint and shrinking biodiversity.
This review would hardly be complete without a mention of our annual Earth Overshoot Day campaign. From a front-page headline in Italy's La Stampa to a French primetime TV report, we're grateful that millions of people were given the opportunity to learn about humanity’s growing ecological deficit.
Finally, thank you to all of you who helped us raise more than $34,000 to fund our Footprint calculator smartphone app, qualifying us to receive more than $60,000 in matching funds from the Skoll Foundation.
We are looking forward to reaching deeper and further in 2015, with your help, so that the Ecological Footprint influences more policy processes and investment strategies—always with a view to ensuring that mankind thrives, within the means of our one and only planet.
From all of us at Global Footprint Network, we wish you and your loved ones all the health and happiness in this new year.
David Lin, Research Scientist - 12/15/2014 11:38 AM
Last month, David Lin, a lead scientist at Global Footprint Network, traveled to India to provide support to Pragyan Bharati, our India director, on our new pilot project there called Sustainable Development Return on Investment. The project aims to empower local villagers to have a more informed voice in shaping development in their communities. Here is a short travelogue by David on his experience meeting villagers with our partners International Development Enterprises-India (IDEI) and Gram Vikas (of India).
When my plane from Delhi landed in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, I immediately noticed the change in environment. Odisha, located in East India, is a region covered by a dry tropical and deciduous forest, evident even in the most urban areas of the town. The tribal communities we visited were located near the town of Phulbani, about 5 hours by car from Bhubaneswar. The trip was a beautiful one, passing through oceans of green rice fields and tall forests, punctuated by many small towns and villages.
Earlier during the trip I was saddened to see displaced populations in the cities, both Phulbani and Delhi, possibly the result of recent urbanization in India, and I was expecting to see the more rural areas in worse shape. When I arrived, I was surprised to see what seemed to me a higher level of happiness—which I, of course, precisely and scientifically calculated by the smiles and other expressions on the peoples’ faces. As we drove, we passed multiple groups of farmers, uniformed students going to and from school, and herds of water buffalos, cattle and lamb. Surrounded by lush vegetation, I wasn’t sure why the cows were so thin and bony, but I soon learned the answer to this.
When we arrived at the village center, I immediately noticed a large painted mural that covered the entire side of a building. The mural was a relic of previous government interventions to empower the village and a reminder to maintain those empowering values moving forward. For instance, we were told by the villagers that the government has incentivized girls to continue education by giving them bicycles after graduating from a certain grade. The high level of government support for tribal communities was consistent in the communities that we visited and confirmed in conversation with our NGO partners.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in our initial encounter in the village, but the community members were accustomed to outsiders through government and NGO involvement, which have aimed to empower them socially and economically. Our partners at IDEI had developed a trusting relationship with them through recent work to improve agricultural practices.
We sat down with the heads of a household, and Pragyan asked them a whole list of questions related to harvests, visits to the local market, consumption, etc. This was a first attempt to see if the questions were appropriate for people to answer easily, and if they could be translated into usable data. We learned, for example, that a farmer could describe the crop harvest by how much storage space it filled but not by volume. This was among the simpler challenges we had to address for our assessments.
After we compile information on the production and consumption patterns of the village, we will determine the ratio of village Ecological Footprint (consumption) to its biocapacity (ability of the land to produce and regenerate what is consumed). By monitoring sets of villages, each with different levels and types of government and NGO development, we will be able to (1) assess the sustainable development return on investment of the different approaches and (2) educate and empower the villages to take control of their future development.
Earlier during an orientation, we met with staff from Gram Vikas and IDEI, as well as others active in the local NGO community. Their excitement about creating lasting impact on these villages was evident. One of the major improvements we learned about was the treadle pump. Without the pumps, crops can only be grown in many areas during monsoon season because they rely on surface water and precipitation. The lush, green environment I saw was the direct result of the recent rainy season. The cows, however, hadn’t yet had time to fatten up.
One major benefit of the pumps is that they get around this seasonality problem, enabling these communities to grow several crops throughout the year, actually increasing the land’s productivity. These pumps were produced and distributed through a social entrepreneurship program intended to benefit and empower local communities.
Witnessing the multi-disciplinary efforts of our partners in creating lasting impact was a most interesting part of the trip. Artists and videographers attended our orientation to lend their experience in engaging communities through various forms of art whether in the form of a mural, village-hosted play or symbolic structure built in collaboration with the community.
The government programs and support toward creating better lives in India was clear on this trip, and we hope our involvement and partnerships can empower people to choose sustainable paths moving forward.
Chris Nelder, Policy Officer, @nelderini - 12/11/2014 03:50 PM
The spectacular 40 percent crash in oil prices that began in July and accelerated in October has focused the world’s attention once again on the "master commodity" and its far-reaching effects on the global economy. Unfortunately, much of the media coverage has revolved around nationalistic narratives that have little bearing on the facts.
Given oil’s significant role in today’s economies and its interplay with both biocapacity and Ecological Footprint pressures, we wanted to share our view on:
• why oil prices are down;
• when and why might they go back up; and
• who gets hurt and who wins.
The Runaway Fracking Train
As ever, oil prices are a function of three main factors: supply, demand, and the outlook of traders. Oil is always a forward-looking trade, and a leading indicator of the health of the global economy.
On the supply side, U.S. “tight oil” production (from fracking) has been a runaway train, adding around 1 million barrels a day (mb/d) of new supply each year. Its output is up 3.8 mb/d since 2007, a significant addition to a global market that consumes around 91 mb/d. With no constraints upon their production other than profitability, U.S. tight oil producers have continued drilling frenetically without any apparent regard for the effect of that new supply on the global market balance.
OPEC’s production, in contrast, has remained fairly flat over the same period. According to OPEC’s own figures, the cartel’s output in November 2014 was just over 30 mb/d, roughly the same as it was one year ago (as was Saudi Arabia’s production), and 0.5 mb/d lower than it was in September when the price crash accelerated.
While Saudi Arabia and a few other OPEC producers have offered modest price discounts to select customers in the current battle for market share, the steep fall in global prices to 2009 levels cannot be attributed to OPEC. If we must point a finger at a supply-side culprit, then it must be pointed at U.S. tight oil producers. If U.S. producers assumed that OPEC members would cut their own production to accommodate U.S. output, that was simply a strategic error on their part. Speaking at the climate summit in Peru this week, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi was blunt, saying “Why should we cut production? Why?”
Since U.S. output has been growing steadily for several years, accounting for all of the growth in non-OPEC supply, and OPEC output has been flat, traders priced the supply growth into their outlooks long ago.
What changed is the outlook for demand, which has been weakening since mid-2014, according to the International Energy Agency. In addition to stagnant economies in Europe and anemic growth in the U.S., China’s blistering growth rate in recent years has finally begun to moderate a bit, as have the growth rates in other parts of the developing world. That is the new factor that traders began to price in around July. Indeed, the decline in prices matches the decline in global GDP estimates nicely.
But in late September, as oil prices continued to fall, it became a momentum trade as traders rushed to one side of the boat. Now, as the end of the year approaches, the falling price of oil seems to have become a purely financial event as fund managers liquidate their positions to capture year-end gains and raise cash to settle wrong-footed positions. U.S. oil trading around $61/bbl as of this writing cannot be justified by supply and demand fundamentals. It is also well below the breakeven price of some tight oil operations, and far below the $100-plus price range that oil exporters such as Iran, Venezuela and Iraq need to balance their budgets.
If prices remain at their current depressed levels for another three months or more, we should expect a marked slowdown in U.S. production growth. Some slowing is already indicated, as new drilling permits fell by 40 percent from October to November.
Crystal Ball Gazing
When prices will rise again is difficult to say. If the short-sellers exhaust themselves by the end of the year as fund managers make their final tallies, prices should stage a slow recovery. And if prices remain low for six months or more, causing U.S. output to flatten or even fall, it will set the stage for prices to rise again until it is profitable to resume a frenetic pace of drilling. And frenetic it must be, for the rapid production decline rates of fracked wells require rapid drilling just to keep overall output flat.
It is also certainly possible that OPEC producers could decide to cut their own production to support prices at some indeterminate time in the future. However, the tenor of recent OPEC talks suggests that the cartel is having a difficult time achieving consensus, and comments like al-Naimi’s suggest that Saudi Arabia and other deep-pocketed OPEC members might rather wait until low prices force U.S. producers to cut back. With substantial financial reserves to fall back on, they can afford to wait.
Winners and Losers
According to data compiled by Trevor Houser of the Rhodium Group, the winners and losers in all this might not be the ones you’d expect. Those with the most to lose are small economies who depend heavily on oil exports, like the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Kuwait. Those with the most to gain are small economies who are heavily dependent on oil imports, like Djibouti, Seychelles and Kyrgyzstan. The global heavyweight producers like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States seem content for now to keep pumping all-out until somebody blinks, but all will suffer a loss of revenues.
The real winners in the short term are consumers, who are suddenly finding it a lot cheaper to fill up their tanks. But that has a downside too: U.S. consumers are already back to driving full-sized SUVs and pickups off the new car lots, and demand could rebound in many parts of the world that struggled when oil was over $100/bbl. Should prices remain low and demand surge back, it would delay the already-slow deployment of more efficient modes of transportation. And in that event—as climate hawks at the Peru conference right now are certainly aware—the real loser would be the planet.
Meet 10 year-old Daigo Toubaru of Okinawa, Japan, who recently calculated his Ecological Footprint for the first time. This short Q&A is part of our CrowdRise Campaign to raise funds for a Footprint calculator mobile application and help preserve our natural resources for future generations!
The average Japanese Footprint is 2.26 Earths – If everyone in the world lived like the average person in Japan, we would need 2.6 Earths. How do you feel about your Footprint results?
I think 1.9 Earths is too big, so I want to rethink my lifestyle!
How can you reduce your Footprint?
I want to choose more local food and more natural food. I want to eat less processed and packaged food items too. Oh, sometimes I have leftover food that goes to waste, I can reduce that!
Do you have any messages to your friends in the world?
Let’s work together, friends. Let’s try not to use Earth-san too much because we only have one Earth. Okinawan culture has an animism point of view where everything including inanimate objects has soul. Here Daigo refers to Earth-san as a living thing.
Below are Daigo’s Footprint results.
How big is your footprint? Start by using our Ecological Footprint Calculator to measure your impact on our planet’s resources and receive simple lifestyle changes to reduce your Footprint. Support our crowdfunding campaign and overarching goal: that all people live well, within the means of one planet! Watch our new video to learn more about how a new smartphone calculator app will help educate millions more about sustainability.
This is a series of videos in Global Footprint Network’s crowdfunding campaign for a Footprint calculator mobile app. Learn more at www.bit.ly/ecofootprintapp.
Meet Rob Gotto of Oakland, California and learn how he harnesses the sun to reduce his Footprint – and the Footprint of Kaiser Permanente!
Meet Resh Almadi of Oakland, California who finds that taking transit not only reduces his Ecological Footprint but also helps him get to know his neighborhood a little better.
Meet Amanda, one of Global Footprint Network’s staff members in our Oakland office. In this short video, she explains her strategy for reducing her Ecological Footprint.
Meet Ingrid, one of Global Footprint Network's staff members in our Geneva office. See how she measured her Ecological Footprint and took an impressive step to decrease her demand on the planet's resources.
Statement by Mathis Wackernagel, President, Global Footprint Network
The landmark U.S.-China climate change agreement announced this week is a game changer for our energy future because it represents strong recognition of the need to wind down fossil fuel use to zero within a few decades. What had been a physical necessity but a political taboo is now being acknowledged by the two countries with the largest CO2 emissions.
Other countries have been waiting on the sidelines for the United States and China to act on climate change. So President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy adoption by 2025 and 2030 respectively—just 10 and 15 years away—sends a promising signal to the world community on the path to the Paris climate summit at the end of next year.
The new goals would keep the United States on the trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide carbon emission reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050, according to the White House. China, meanwhile, has targeted total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030. Both actions will happen well within the lifetimes of many people today.
These targets represent a significant shift in political momentum and suggest that moving out of fossil fuels may finally have won mainstream acceptance.
Of course, it will take significant investment for nations to transform their economies, and those costs are only likely to increase the longer nations delay in taking action. Consequently, it’s in the self-interest of every nation to act now to shift toward low-carbon policies as a way to “future proof” its economy.
Our analysis shows that countries are unequally exposed in terms of the scale and impact of reforms required to move to low-carbon economies. The longer countries wait, the more their carbon intensive assets will lose value in a low-carbon future. This inaction may lead both to a loss of competitiveness and potentially even a higher credit default risk. We are working with the U.N. Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and leading finance institutions to develop tools for the finance industry to better measure these economic risks when evaluating sovereign bonds.
To succeed, government leaders at all levels need better tools to make economically effective long-term decisions on everything from infrastructure to energy provision to buildings. Consequently, we have worked with state leaders in the U.S. to enhance traditional net present value (NPV) tools that recognize the economic and resource context in which the investments will operate. Such assessments provide more realistic estimates of the future costs and benefits associated with particular investments and show that in many cases, the low-carbon options are already today the economically superior choice.
Indeed, the U.S.-China agreement announced Wednesday suggests we need an entirely new way to determine the value of fossil fuels and assets that could become stranded because of their overdependence on those fuels.
The details of how U.S. and China will achieve their ambitious goals remain to be seen, and the agreement may prove to be largely symbolic. But symbols can be powerful, and we believe the agreement portends a brighter outlook for action on climate change in 2015.
Susan Burns, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network, will be honored today at the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) Conference in Denver, Colo., as both she and co-founder Mathis Wackernagel are inducted into the ISSP Sustainability Hall of Fame. She has taken this opportunity to share insights from her journey.
How did you "fall" into a career as a sustainability professional?
As a child I loved nature, and I somehow knew there was a problem with pollution and the extinction of species, even though during my suburban upbringing it wasn’t exactly kitchen table conversation.
After earning a degree in environmental engineering, I started working in the consulting industry. I like to joke with my younger colleagues that I was working in this field before “sustainability” was even a word! I started the pollution prevention practice at ERM West. Then I met Ernest Lowe and Gil Friend, some of the early thinkers around the idea of industrial ecology and how the waste of one industrial process can be used as the input for another industrial process. The idea is to mimic nature where production and “waste” are all incorporated into one closed loop, and everything is utilized. I ended up starting a small consulting firm, Natural Strategies, with Adam Davis and the late Charles McGlashan, two brilliant men. Our vision was to help global corporations adopt sustainability as a source of competitive advantage even though the business world was very skeptical at the time.
What was the biggest "aha" moment of your career?
When I first heard Karl-Henrik Robèrt speak—he had just come to the United States to introduce the Natural Step principles—a light bulb went off in my mind, just as it did for many people at the time. It was the first time that the human relationship to nature was presented through a solid systems perspective. Before that, environmentalism had been approached as a collection of isolated symptoms—some people were working on ozone, some people were working on climate change, some people were working on pollution.
When I discovered that framework, I made a commitment to myself that I would be as involved as I could. So I became one of the first 20 trainers in the United States who were certified to teach the Natural Step in the United States.
At Natural Strategies, we were excited to translate what was a great framework into terms that business people could understand. We were working hard inside companies to turn this concept of sustainability into ways that made sense from the product development side, but also for the people in marketing, manufacturing and employee engagement. One of our first clients was Mitsubishi Electric, one of the early adopters of the Natural Step Framework.
What accomplishments are you the most proud of?
One dates back to my Natural Strategies days, when we worked with Lowe's to help them phase out of wood sourced from the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. It's an amazing place in the world; these trees are ancient. Lowe's is a fairly conservative company based out of South Carolina. They were faced with a possible campaign by the Rainforest Action Network, who had launched a boycott against Home Depot, causing significant business disruption. Lowe's wanted to take a different tack and be in a dialogue with environmental organizations.
To help Lowe’s understand the issue, we organized a trip to the Great Bear Rainforest, gathering together a team of Lowe’s executives and environmentalists, all flying to British Columbia on the corporate jet to meet with Lowe’s vendors on the ground in the forests where they sourced their wood. I'll never forget standing in the pristine forest with the senior VP of merchandising. He had tears in his eyes and said, "There's no way we're going to have any of these trees on our shelves; I don't care what it takes."
Being involved in the sustainability movement in the early days was incredibly gratifying because we were almost always doing things for the very first time. One example was Portfolio 21, the first sustainability mutual fund in the nation that I helped create 15 years ago with Progressive Investment Management. There were no models for corporate sustainability at the time, so we used the Natural Step Framework to ask what transformation would be needed in each industrial sector to create a sustainable global economy. Each screened company was measured against these expectations. Portfolio 21 now has over $400 million of assets under management and has been fossil fuel free from the beginning—definitely ahead of its time!
Another accomplishment I am very proud of, of course, is the creation of Global Footprint Network. I could never have imagined we would grow to this size and exert so much influence. It's been an incredible challenge, and also very rewarding.
Something I never expected was what a journey of personal growth it would be. It’s a long and winding road from an entrepreneur to a CEO of an international organization with 30 employees. It has been a privilege to be able to lead the organization and to grow as a person in this way. It has been very rich and fascinating.
Tell us about the genesis of Global Footprint Network.
I met Mathis Wackernagel in 2001 when he was working at Redefining Progress. The Ecological Footprint, that he had created with William Rees, had been popular at the grassroots level and in academic circles. It was also starting to get the attention of heads of state. Tony Blair was using Ecological Footprint data in his speeches. On Bastille Day 2002, French President Jacques Chirac talked about ecological overshoot on prime-time television. As the idea that humanity was using much more than what the planet could regenerate was becoming well known, we decided that the National Footprint Accounts, which form the basis of the Ecological Footprint, are such an important body of research that they needed their own home. There were hundreds of organizations using the Footprint but there was no one place where people could collaborate on research and set standards. I had seen what had happened with the carbon Footprint—there was no central place where people could agree on what it even meant, which slows things down until the best methods win and people finally coalesce around it. We had an opportunity to skip that time-consuming step because of Mathis’s relationships with all the leading practitioners and the fact that we began from the start as a network.
What can you share about the organization's first steps?
We started Global Footprint Network as a project of Natural Strategies, incubating it until it was able to walk on its own. Our first contract was with the City of London. Right away we asked some of the most reputable scientists on the planet to join our advisory board. They all immediately said "yes," with the exception of Al Gore, who was running for president at the time. We had some 20 founding partners—all the leading Footprint practitioners in the world. We started our standards committee and our National Accounts committee, which reviews the Ecological Footprint methodology annually. And of course, we enjoyed a great relationship with WWF, a founding partner, who publishes our data in their Living Planet Report every other year.
How was the partnership with WWF born?
The leaders of WWF realized that humanity couldn't deal with conservation challenges without addressing human pressure. Loss of habitat due to converting nature into human uses is the No. 1 reason for loss of biodiversity. The Footprint is the perfect way to address that side of the equation. And so WWF's two meta goals are No. 1 stop the loss of species and No. 2 live within the means of one planet by 2030 as measured by the Ecological Footprint. These organizing principles guide this great organization of close to 5 million members.
Sustainability conversations have become mainstream in the business world. How would do you describe the evolutions you have observed over the course of your career?
When I started my career, "pollution prevention" was a radical idea: If you stopped dumping your raw materials down the drain, you could save the company money. But because this was also good for the environment, the whole business community automatically assumed that it must be bad for business. The allergic reaction of the business community to anything environment-related has been a battle that environmental professionals have fought for decades. And there has been huge progress: By and large, businesses are getting the argument, seeing the evidence, embracing sustainability strategies and reaping the rewards. Sustainability has become a source of competitive advantage. The best-run companies in the world happen to be the same ones that address climate change and embrace sustainability in their business models and operations. They understand the world is changing very rapidly. So yes, the business world has adapted, which is not to say there isn't still a lot of work to be done.
How about governments and the finance industry?
It's still early days with governments, as it is with the finance industry. Technocrats and economists still operate according to the models they learned at university, where natural resources are there to be exploited and environmental issues are merely externalities. In the finance industry especially, climate change and resource constraints are considered "fringe"—a Sunday-school type of topic. In that respect, they're lagging the rest of the private sector. The prevailing logic in the finance industry is that even if you're doing something stupid, provided everyone else is doing that same stupid thing, it’s OK as long as you are still making money. Look at the housing bubble: Many finance industry professionals knew it was crazy but went ahead with it because of this herd mentality. There’s also a huge problem with short-termism. Investors don't care about ecological risks associated with investments because they can still sell the security before the risk is realized. That mentality is going to be challenging to shift.
How do you propose to address that challenge?
We first have to demonstrate the material link between resource constraints and risk. But we also need to change mindsets and help people break out of their habitual patterns. Humans are social animals; we look at what our colleagues and peers are doing. If they're not embracing sustainability, our reflex is to think that we shouldn't either. That is why it is very important to make it easy for people to do the right thing and to put it in their language. We also need to have the patience to wait for people to implement change, beyond the early adopters. I recently heard someone say "don’t confuse the fringe with the frontier." Just because the mainstream hasn’t embraced it, doesn’t mean you aren’t succeeding.
Global Footprint Network is 100 percent focused on demonstrating material risk in a way that's irrefutable. And we're hoping that by having large institutions adopt our methodology, we'll eventually be able to influence the rest of the industry. That's our strategy right now.
What gets you going in the morning?
I'm obsessed with innovating and tackling systemic issues in the most practical ways possible. That's always what occupies my brain professionally—always pushing the envelope, asking the bigger questions. For instance, even though the Lowe's engagement was a success, it made me realize that if you press one end of a balloon, the other end pops out. As Lowe's shifted out of the Great Bear Rainforest, where else were they going to go? They turned to pine plantations in the United States, with a big impact on our ecosystems; they turned to Indonesia woods, that they also needed to phase out of. We need to look at the whole system, and try to innovate at that level because a million different innovations, if they don't add up, still leave us in ecological overshoot.
Similarly, when I look at the sustainability community, I see there are so many good things happening, including the explosion of green tech, corporate sustainability, socially responsible investing, green bonds. And yet, the trends are still marching along the way they always have. Resource flows keep growing larger—they are not even slowing down! That's because we're innovating inside of a system that is hardwired. It’s the rebound effect: The moment we create more efficiency and capacity, humanity expands to fill that new capacity. Hunter and Amory Lovins were famous for the idea of "Factor 4," which was supposed to be "twice as much stuff for half the impact." But that very rarely happens. We instead just create capacity for four times more stuff.
And so I'm fascinated with, and focused on, asking the deeper questions about the structure of the economy, the ways our markets work—and capitalism itself. We need to come up with an economy that can operate without liquidating natural capital. At the same time, in our current economy, if we don't create growth, we have human suffering, which is not acceptable either.
There are very few economists working on this problem. Herman Daly came up with the idea of the steady state economy. Tim Jackson and Peter Victor have been working to model a national economy that is a steady state economy and still delivers all the benefits we want like jobs and well-being. But this work has not left the research lab.
If I could clone myself, I would tackle this problem.
What if doing the « right » thing for the planet—like recycling or buying sustainably sourced items such as organic-cotton garments—earned you money? As an individual, would you be more inclined to take that extra step toward a more sustainable lifestyle, one behavior, one purchase at a time? As a business owner, would you adopt a more sustainable supply-chain strategy?
This is the big bet that environmentalist David French went for when he founded My Drop in the Oceans, a global currency platform designed to "empower people to value nature" through partnerships with businesses and local authorities. Launched last month in Switzerland, My Drop in the Oceans rewards participants for actions that improve sustainable living, including measuring their Ecological Footprint with Global Footprint Network’s Swiss online calculator.
Here is how it works. Sustainable actions are rewarded with DIO (pronounced "dee-oh"), an electronic currency that can be used towards purchases at participating businesses. For instance, using the Footprint calculator to help you choose more sustainable behaviors will earn you 50 DIO. Thanks to a partnership with the Canton of Geneva, local residents are rewarded 450 DIO (about 45 Swiss francs, 37€ or $57) for playing their part in the Canton's current 45 percent recycling rate. They can apply their credit towards 5 percent of their total purchase at one of a dozen participating local businesses so far, including coffee shops, a sustainable fashion line, a music store, a yoga studio and a shared workspace. Companies will have the opportunity to increase that percentage of DIO transactions in the future.
"We are very busy creating more opportunities to collect DIO," Alexandra Knezovich, My Drop in the Oceans' director of communication, told us. She expects that 50 businesses will join the network by the end of the year.
As My Drop in the Oceans is rolling out its pilot program in Geneva, it is already working on a similar initiative to launch in Washington, D.C., next year. The organization also aims to enroll online businesses to rapidly expand the network of DIO transactions and leverage its impact around the world. "We are talking with multinational companies," Knezovich said.
Companies will be able to use DIO to promote sustainable products to customers. And they will pay their suppliers with DIO as the currency system grows its business network.
DIO are no gimmick. The currency was developed in collaboration with none other than Bernard Lietaer, who co-designed and implemented the single European currency system. In order to stabilize its value in the global market as much as possible DIO is pegged against a basket of national currencies. The amount of DIO issued is, over time, set to match the cost of achieving global sustainability targets as defined by the United Nations and other established international agencies, in part through the work of Global Footprint Network.
"What we take from nature's capital, when we produce and consume, has a value to human society and a cost to nature," explains My Drop in the Oceans on its website. "Many of those costs are hidden, not accounted for by consumers, businesses or governments, instead revealing themselves as deficits through the degradation of ecosystems. We need to make a fundamental shift from seeing nature as a resource to seeing it as a provider of resources, in doing so recognizing that our lifestyles bear a cost to nature that needs to be compensated."
"Our goal," added Knezovich, "is to act as the middleman to help shift the economic system to better reflect the value of nature, so that we use its resources more sustainably."
For the first time, Global Footprint Network is partnering with other NGOs to support both sustainable and human development at the community level in India. While Global Footprint Network projects often target decision-makers at the national, sub-national, and city levels, this new pilot in India aims to give local villagers a more informed voice in shaping development in their communities. The project, titled "Sustainable Development Return on Investment: Empowering Communities and Measuring Investment Effectiveness," or SDRoI, is a partnership with International Development Enterprises-India, Gram Vikas (of India) and Fundación Escuela Nueva (of Colombia).
We asked Pragyan a few questions about the new project.
1. Where in India are you working?
PRAGYAN: I live in the eastern coastal state of Odisha, and that's also where the project is taking place. The state is rich in natural resources, minerals and biodiversity. It also has a unique cultural heritage with 62 different indigenous tribes living there. However, the state has a high incidence of poverty.
It’s a tropical area with high temperatures and recurring natural disasters like cyclones, floods and droughts. Last year the state was hit by the severe Cyclone Phailin and then massive floods that marooned hundreds of thousands of people and killed 44.
2. Which communities will you engage with?
PRAGYAN: We will be working with nine to 12 rural communities where our partner organizations operate. We are still exploring the criteria for selecting communities, but some will be low-income, tribal villages in the interior pockets of the state. More than 2,000 villagers will be directly influenced by this project.
3. What are the goals of the SDRoI project?
PRAGYAN: There are two main goals. One is to empower local communities to own, negotiate, and manage their own socio-economic development through the use of the SDRoI tool that we will be creating with them. Secondly, we intend to measure donor agency investments against both local development goals and global sustainability development goals.
Intense engagement with communities through use of the SDRoI tool will enable them to make informed decisions and choices about their own development needs and goals and negotiate better with different service providers and planners from both government and non-governmental agencies.
For example, let’s assume the community was considering clearing an area of land in order to build a factory. Rather than prescribe a certain action, the tool would estimate benefits and potential losses of building the factory based on the community’s human development needs and its resources. This could include economic benefits to the community and decreased unemployment as well as the loss of ecological habitat and pollution.
4. What kind of tool will you be using?
PRAGYAN: The tool will be a data-driven, science-based framework that captures the two core dimensions of sustainable development. Development is mapped using the UN’s widely recognized Human Development Index (HDI) and the resource constraints are captured with Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting.
HDI measures human well-being based on longevity, literacy and income. An HDI of more than 0.67 is considered to be "high development."
Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting will enable us to measure the degree to which communities are living within the means of the resource base available to them. We will compare the population’s demand on the community's resources to the biocapacity under control of the community members.
We are currently in the process of refining the metric to better adapt it to local situations and the needs of our partners.
5. What are the biggest challenges?
PRAGYAN: As exciting as the project is, I foresee one of the challenges to be designing an effective communications strategy to reach out to our target audience, as I expect many to be tribal communities with their own indigenous languages and scripts.
It could also be a challenge to shift the prevalent attitude within communities from dependence on external aid towards self - reliance, making informed development decisions and taking action themselves.
But we have great partners and resources. Right now I am doing a lot of ground work, visiting different villages, meeting with local partners and villagers, and mapping various resources for the project.
6. Tell us about your background and experience.
PRAGYAN: Initially I taught sociological concepts and theories at the undergraduate level. After obtaining my PhD in sociology, I felt more interested in seeing the application of those theories and the actual working of societal dynamics. I started my development career working on women empowerment through governance, livelihood and food security issues. Subsequently, I joined UNICEF and my career focus changed to water and sanitation issues.
At ONE DROP, the foundation for Cirque du Soleil, I worked on an innovative pilot project using the social arts as a medium to mobilize communities for adopting WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) strategies and access to safe drinking water through purification technologies.
This project was of particular interest to me because it gives an in-depth understanding of the broader canvas of development and sustainability, which is so relevant in current times.—Interview by Amanda Short