Footprint Network Blog

Resh Explains Why Reducing His Footprint Was the Best Change He’s Ever Made

11/24/2014 05:05 PM

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. This is the third video in a series for Global Footprint Network’s crowdfunding campaign for a Footprint calculator mobile app. Learn more at


Amanda Speeds by Bay Area Traffic While Reducing Her Ecological Footprint

11/17/2014 03:40 PM

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. This is the second video in a series for Global Footprint Network’s crowdfunding campaign for a Footprint calculator mobile app. Learn more at


Statement on U.S.-China Climate Agreement

Global Footprint Network - 11/15/2014 01:35 PM

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.  it recognizes 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. 


Mathis Wackernagel


Seeking Sustainable Solutions: CEO Susan Burns Reflects on Her Professional Journey

11/13/2014 07:00 AM

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.

—Interview by Laetitia Mailhes

Ingrid Takes a Big Step to Reduce Her Footprint in Geneva

11/05/2014 12:43 AM

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. This is the first video in a series for Global Footprint Network’s crowdfunding campaign for a Footprint calculator mobile app. Learn more at


DIO: The Currency That Prices Nature

10/15/2014 08:04 PM

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."

Even if you don't live in Switzerland, check out our footprint calculator at

Categories: Ecological Limits

New Pilot Project to Empower Villagers in India

09/29/2014 05:13 PM

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).

Pragyan Bharati (right), Global Footprint Network’s India director, is leading the 18-month project. She holds a doctorate in sociology and is a social development specialist with experience in leading various water and sanitation projects with ONE DROP, UNICEF, and the government of Odisha’s Ministry of Rural Development.

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

Learn more about Our Human Development Initiative

Subscribe to our Footprint Newsletter for future updates about our project in India.

Categories: Human Development

Drought Jolts California Into Managing Resources

09/24/2014 10:56 PM

Northern California’s Folsom Lake on January 16, 2014. The reservoir, 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, has shrunk from 97 percent capacity in 2011, to 17 percent capacity in this past January, according to a news release from the California Department of Water Resources.

California is waking up to the value of the Commons. State lawmakers have acknowledged the need for the responsible management of its natural capital.

This major cultural shift occurred last week when Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills stipulating that the state will manage groundwater if local water agencies and irrigation districts don’t. The move officially put an end to the gold-digger mentality that had prevailed until now, allowing large landowners to deplete a vital natural resource at the expense of their neighbors. It took three years of exceptional drought for this awakening to take place.

The Golden State stipulated a long time ago that anything that belongs to your land, above or below, belongs to you. And so it is that anyone with a well on his or her property could pump groundwater unfettered.

Groundwater is the reason California’s agriculture is still standing strong despite the drought. As surface water supplies have been dwindling, aquifers have come to provide over more than 60 percent of freshwater needs for irrigation. As groundwater became the new gold, landowners raced to the riches, drilling wells without being encumbered by any form of regulation.

Well drilling and groundwater pumping have been so intense, in fact, that the ground has been sinking in some places. Seismic experts have even warned of the risk of earthquakes as depleted aquifers cause a shift in the weight balance of geological layers, adding pressure to active faults.

In summary, it became an inescapable fact that responsible management of dwindling natural resources like fresh water requires public oversight through monitoring programs and a solid implementation of regulations.

The signing of California’s groundwater management law implicitly acknowledges that the ecological stress caused by the drought may not be a short-lived anomaly. We are encouraged that the authors of the bills and the governor recognized the need to adapt the state’s infrastructure to an increasingly resource-constrained era.

Last year, Global Footprint Network published the very first study of California’s Ecological Footprint. We were surprised to find out that the state’s population demands more than five times more natural resources and services each year than its own ecosystem can renew in that same amount of time. In fact, California’s per-person biocapacity is much lower than that of the United States. This is due mostly to California’s relatively high population density, but also to the aridity of much of the state.

On a global scale, humanity’s demand for renewable ecological resources and the goods and services they provide is now equivalent to 1.5 Earths.

In a world of growing ecological overshoot, access to sufficient natural capital is key to long-term, sustainable success. It is in the overwhelming self-interest of any country, state, city and investor to address resource constraints proactively. California is no exception.

Categories: Ecological Limits

Deconstructing Carbon before UN Climate Summit

Global Footprint Network - 09/15/2014 05:00 PM

Charged up by activists mobilizing for the UN Climate Summit in New York next week, we delved into our carbon Footprint data to see if we could shed light on the very intractable debates swirling around nations’ responsibilities for reducing emissions.  In the first graph below, our intrepid research analyst David Zimmerman found while EU countries toot their horns about declining emissions (as represented by the blue line below), the picture is not so simple.  

Here’s what David discovered after creating an index starting at 1993: EU emissions are actually increasing (except for a 2009 recession dip) when you account for all emissions resulting from consumption by EU residents (as shown in the red line). The measurement includes goods produced outside the EU but ultimately consumed inside its borders, and excludes goods produced within the EU that are consumed outside its borders.

EU Emissions

In a second graphic, David compared carbon emissions within a nation’s borders (domestic carbon emissions) to carbon emissions embodied in national consumption, which includes carbon associated with the production of goods outside the nation that were ultimately consumed inside the nation’s borders.

Nations Emissions

Not surprisingly, domestic emissions in countries like the US, the UK, and Switzerland were actually lower than the overall carbon emissions globally associated with the products their citizens consume –because they have large Ecological Footprints and consume many goods produced beyond their borders. 

As these graphics show, pointing fingers is no simple matter.  Rather, it’s in each nation’s self-interest to establish policies to reduce its citizens’ carbon and Ecological Footprints. The alternative is more political, economic, and climate instability and uncertainty.

That’s why Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel is supporting two initiatives related to the UN Climate Summit in New York. Dr. Wackernagel is a founding signatory to a letter asking world leaders to take urgent action on climate change to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade. You, too, can add your voice here:

Dr. Wackernagel also has joined a coalition of countries, companies, NGOs and indigenous peoples organizations in endorsing the New York Declaration of Forests, which calls for halving the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end forest loss by 2030.

Fueling Public Debate on Swiss Competitiveness

09/15/2014 04:30 PM

Given that Swiss residents consume four times more than Swiss ecosystems can regenerate, what should the nation do to stay competitive?  

That was the question that Global Footprint Network and partner BAKBASEL was charged with addressing in a new report launching Sept. 16.

The objective of the study, commissioned by Switzerland’s Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE) and four other ministries, was to establish the impact on Swiss competitiveness of current resource trends.   

The report's findings will be unveiled Sept. 16 in Bern to spark debate at the fifth public town hall event of Dialog Nachhaltige Entwicklung Schweiz ("Dialogue on Sustainable Development in Switzerland"), a program sponsored by ARE.  

Global Footprint Network and BAKBASEL recognize in the report that current economic impacts of ecological constraints may still be limited for the Swiss economy. Still, the economic risks from growing ecological constraints are becoming increasingly significant. The longer-term implications – in its most condensed form — can be summarized as follows:  

In the competition for limited ecological assets, what really matters are trends in relative GDP. To win the “resource game” in a world of shrinking natural resource availability and increasing demand, one’s relative income has to rise.  

As is happening for most high-income countries vis-à-vis the emerging economies, Switzerland's relative income has been receding compared to the world – the Swiss resident is now taking home a 35 percent smaller share of the global income than 20 years ago, or less than 50 percent  of the share 35 years ago. 

At the same time, most countries are increasing their demand on the rest of the world, fueling the competition for resources and ecological services. With more than 85 percent of the world population already living in countries with biocapacity deficits, this trend can no longer be ignored.

The report identifies five possible ways to reduce the competitiveness risks from biocapacity deficits:   

1. “Retreat from the world,” and reduce global integration as much as possible (even if it reduces standards of living) to avoid the exposure to negative impacts from cut-throat competition over resources.  

2. “Embrace hyper-growth,” and accelerate economic output in order to keep up with or even outcompete the relative gains of emerging economies.  

3. “Hedge your bets,” keep maximizing the global integration benefits through a strong Swiss brand as long as it lasts, and set up a sovereign fund to reengineer the economy when it becomes necessary.   

4. “Reengineer extreme resource-efficiency right now,” employ the most efficient technologies to make Switzerland far less dependent on foreign resources – without reducing labor productivity. A variance of this strategy may be to also invest heavily in the resource efficiency of value chains leading into Switzerland.

5. “Forge privileged resource relationships.” One way of securing Switzerland’s supply may be to develop long-term bilateral resource contracts with biocapacity-rich nations. Enabling this would require significant additional intervention by the government (since until now most resources are traded privately and not via government-sponsored channels).  

Of course, each scenario comes with its long suite of challenges and risks. In fact, none can easily be embraced as the obvious fix. What about a sixth option, yet to be envisaged? Or could this sixth option be an optimal blend of the five ones listed above?   

At any rate, any attempt at an answer must first determine what level of biocapacity deficit would be strategic for Switzerland in order to bring forth an affordable pathway to a resilient, resource secure and prosperous future.  

ARE commissioned the study in collaboration with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO)Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Download the report in English, French or German.

The invitation to the national dialogue available here  (in German) summarizes the event.

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