Earth Overshoot Day – What can construction be doing differently?

Earth overshoot day Ellis Fox Blog

The last time that human consumption of natural resources equalled the capacity of what the planet could provide was around 1969. Since then, it’s been a steady decline. The average size of vertebrate population species has declined by 68% while the human population has grown by 121%. This past week on August 2nd, we surpassed the earth’s capacity for 2023. Currently and for the past decade, humans are annually using 1.7 times the natural resources available.

These figures are alarming. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing a climate crisis. The problem is that most business leaders have efficiency of materials as a cost priority. Waste is about not wasting money. Materials are there to be used. Environmental governance is measured in carbon and companies are issued fines for non-compliance while the damage remains.

There’s a fundamental shift that needs to happen if we are to reduce the capacity of using 1.7 earths a year. Construction and the built environment have a pivotal role to play. Currently the construction industry accounts for 39% of annual carbon emissions. While efforts are being made to reduce this through better planning and creating more efficient buildings. It’s not quite enough. We need to find ways to improve the situation through regeneration. Here are two examples of moving in the right direction:

Rethinking infrastructure:

The Netherlands has been very effective in creating green spaces in cities and improving infrastructure in the process. It’s creating a positive impact on people and the planet. The number of car lanes have been reduced and replaced with cycle and pedestrian lanes. Trees and curbside gardens have been planted to attract pollinators. This has the added benefit of cooling city streets and creating a more habitable urban environment. Physically commuting has resulted in a healthier and happier population too.

Rethinking development:

Headlines were made recently when permission was revoked for the planned demolition of the M&S building in London. The decision was made on the basis that the carbon footprint could not be justified and that alternatives to repurpose the building had not been fully explored. This is a win for the environment and perhaps highlights a shift in thinking – to rather make better use of what already exists. To see the value in what we have, aim to use less and not continually want more.  Because there isn’t more to go around.