One Planet Approaches: new guidance to help organizations operate within planetary boundaries

Published on the 27th of November 2017

We have begun to cross the safe boundaries within which the world operates. These boundaries include climate change, biodiversity, and land-system change. Protecting these boundaries is essential for organizational success in the short term and our survival as a species in the long term. Now Metabolic has produced a landmark report outlining what is needed to ensure businesses and governments can effectively implement ‘one planet approaches’ into their sustainability planning.

Metabolic has produced a landmark new report that identifies what businesses and governments need to do to implement sustainability targets in line with the planetary boundaries. The report, ‘One Planet Approaches, Metho­do­logy Mapping and Pathways Forward’, was developed for WWF NL and IUCN NL as part of their ‘One Planet Thinking’ program, and co-commissioned by the Swiss government (FOEN).

Ensuring a healthy and resilient planet for generations to come requires that human development is decoupled from environmental degradation. Moreover, it requires a fundamental shift to­wards an economy that uses natural resources in an efficient and fair manner. Inte­­­grating scientifically-defined local and global boundaries into decision making is key to creating an economic transition that will not only achieve what is workable but what is necessary for a healthy and resilient planet.

Over the last few years, a broad spectrum of methodologies, tools, programs, and action plans have been developed to steer reductions of human impact to within planetary capacity, referred to collectively as “One Planet Approaches”. Metabolic was commissioned to map and analyze the relative strengths and weak­­nesses of these different approaches, identify knowledge gaps, and determine ways forward to integrate them towards the full and effective development of One Planet Thinking.

Metabolic mapped and reviewed over 60 different such approaches, analyzing their relative strengths and weaknesses, and interviewed and consulted with a number of international expert practitioners from universities and scientific organizations, including the WWF, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Oxford University, UNEP, Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, and the Global Footprint Network.

In the report, Metabolic defines an eight-step process that companies and regions must follow to effectively define, in a real world setting, sustainability targets that are safe and fair for the planet and society. The report also identifies a number of gaps in data, technology, and knowledge within these steps that need to be addressed and recommends a roadmap for the private sector, governments, the scientific community, and civil society, to move forward.

Oscar Sabag Muñoz, sustainability consultant at Metabolic, led the project together with CEO Eva Gladek. He said: “Considering the global environmental crises we face, it is urgent for companies and countries to get serious about their sustainability strategies. We need to transform our entire economic system to align it within the planet’s capacity. We need to set targets based on the best scientific knowledge we have of the planet’s ecosystems. These targets can’t be systematically imposed without consultation and understanding of local contexts. We need to engage with all stakeholders, and be aware of the regional landscapes and the social reality.

“Taking this into account, we call on organizations to determine their contributions even above the minimum requirements defined by the planetary boundaries. We look forward to continuing on this road with current and future partners, developing further knowledge and pioneering the way on the global effort to live safely and fairly in the One Planet we call home.”

Katinka Abbenbroek, Head of One Planet Thinking at WWF, said: “This report provides us with an important baseline, to implement our vision on the one planetary system and work with companies, governments and science, using the resilience of the planet as a reference point.”

The work builds on Metabolic’s longstanding relationship with WWF. Two years ago, we worked with WWF to research and analyse the food system, and identify actions for change. This project was followed with in-depth research into how to leverage consumer decision-making to create sustainable market changes in the food industry as well as discussions and workshops on how to implement systems thinking and on the role European organizations could play to change the global food system. Last year, we contributed to WWF’s iconic biennial Living Planet Report, identifying how systems thinking can help address challenges in the global biodiversity crisis.

Metabolic is taking the findings of the Planet Approaches report further. We are now working with partners to understand the ecological dynamics of some of the planet’s key ecosystems and start a conversation on how to define region-specific targets that are both science- and context-based. Building on this project, we are now in discussions with partners to start pilot projects to test some of the most promising approaches and gather lessons on the real-life barriers companies will face implementing them. If you’d like to join us, please get in touch.

The ‘One Planet Thinking’ program is now looking for members committed to the sustainability of the planet – leaders from governments, businesses, and financial institutions that want to join efforts to step up sustainability ambitions, and break the link between economic development and environmental degradation. One Planet Thinking is also building a Community of Science to strengthen the knowledge base research and develop further the normative principles of the program – for more info, head here.

Read the full report here: ‘One Planet Approaches, Metho­do­logy Mapping and Pathways Forward

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