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Partnership between Global Footprint Network and The Natural Step Builds on Shared Strengths
Submitted by Geoff Stack on July 9, 2009 - 3:26pm.
The Natural Step has recently partnered with the Global Footprint Network (GFN). The two organisations have worked informally together for years, share many common goals and agree on at least three very basic assumptions around sustainability: (1) We’re in trouble; (2) Solving our ecological crisis requires macro-level systems-thinking; and (3) We can succeed only by working together.
Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to advance sustainability through the use of the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use and who uses what. With its growing Partner Network, Global Footprint Network coordinates research, improves its methodological standards and provides decision-makers with robust resource accounts to strengthen corporate strategy, support government innovation, advance human development, and move the sustainability agenda forward in a time of increased ecological limits.
We’re in trouble
The Ecological Footprint metric calculates our impact in terms of planets. It tells us that if everyone in the world lived as Europeans do, it would require three planets to support their lifestyle. Canadians would need 3.5 planets, and Americans? Five. The Global Footprint Network calls this situation “planetary overshoot” and the underlying message is: - we only have one planet, so we must find ways to live within Earth’s limits - now.
TNS uses a funnel metaphor to describe the same concept of planetary limits - our human population is increasing at the same time as the natural resources available to us are declining. Our space for manoeuvring within that funnel is decreasing with time. Whether human sustainability is described in terms of a metaphor or expressed as a ‘number of planets’ we use, the message is the same - we are in a precarious situation.
“We are moving into a ‘peak everything’ situation: The issue is water AND food AND climate AND fisheries AND biodiversity AND oil AND so on,” noted Mathis Wackernagel, founder and CEO of The Global Footprint Network. “Sustainability is not that complicated. We need to maintain clarity and consistency, because it is so much easier to produce confusion and unnecessary complexity. Confusion is often used as an excuse for inaction.”
Studying the whole system - and its limits
The Natural Step and the Global Footprint Network begin to address sustainability at the same scale – the Earth, and our society on it, as a whole. This wide perspective provides us with the big picture of the limits that we face, and therefore, the “rules of the game” become much clearer.
The Global Footprint calculator has proven to be a great way to take a snapshot of our current challenges in order to inspire change. “We deal with one key aspect - providing specific consistency for measuring biocapacity,” noted Wackernagel. In this way, the Footprint provides an answer to why we need to change. Combining that message and its supporting detail with The Natural Step Framework can be of great help. By utilising the technique of back-casting from Sustainability Principles, all kinds of organisations can take steps that help them decrease their contributions the global “overshoot” problem.
This is one of the aspects that allows the partnership between GFN and TNS to work so well. The Ecological Footprint provides a consistent tool for measuring our planetary limits and The Natural Step Framework can be used to work within those limits to change our business, community and global practices. Together we have the same aim - to create a society that can flourish on the one planet that we’ve got.
Partnering is the best way to work together
The Natural Step and the Global Footprint Network share a long history.
Academically, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, founder of The Natural Step, and Mathis Wackernagel of Global Footprint Network have been teaming up to publish papers in academic journals since 1999. Karl-Henrik is a member of Global Footprint Network’s Science and Policy Advisory Council, and as Mathis recently noted, “the TNS and Footprint Network ‘families’ have been friends for many years.”
For TNS, beginning the journey of scaling up has logical next steps -– joining forces with our friends at the Global Footprint Network to help society move strategically towards sustainability. For more on our partnership, contact Eric Ezechieli.