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It’s Earth Overshoot Day. Not a cause for celebration.

By Steven Finn, Vice President of Food Waste Prevention.  ///  July 29, 2019

Today, July 29, is Earth Overshoot Day.  It’s a critically important day for everyone interested in advancing food waste reduction and ensuring a sustainable future.

Earth Overshoot Day represents the point in the year where humanity’s demand for ecological resources (our collective ecological footprint) exceeds the Earth’s ability to supply them (biocapacity). The Global Footprint Network maintains the annual calculation of Earth Overshoot which has, unfortunately, been moving steadily forward (i.e. earlier in the calendar) over time. In 1989, for example, Earth Overshoot Day fell on October 11, while this year it is occurring more than two months earlier, the earliest, in fact, it’s ever fallen. That movement – more than two months in just 20 years -- is cause for great concern because it indicates the accelerated rate at which we are taxing our planet’s finite resources. It isn’t sustainable.

This year Leanpath is partnering with the Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric in advancing awareness of the need to #MoveTheDate while also promoting the business case for one-planet prosperity.

Earth Overshoot is a deficit condition. In the same way that we as individuals might spend more in a given year than we earn, making up the difference by borrowing, Earth Overshoot demonstrates that we are living beyond our means – and we cannot do so forever.  As the Global Footprint Network team notes, our collective deficit comes in the form of the liquidation of natural resources and the accumulation of waste in the environment (think plastics in the oceans, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and deforestation). Today, we are consuming 1.75 planet’s worth of resources annually. And while as individuals we can run a financial deficit in the short term and repay the loan in the longer term, we can’t take the same approach with the Earth’s natural capital – because there is no second Earth to fall back (i.e. there is no Planet B). 

Food waste is an important driver of Earth Overshoot. As the Food and Agriculture Organization notes, if ranked as a country, food waste would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions behind the U.S. and China.  In addition, food production consumes water and resources all along the supply chain, while also depleting soils and forests and contributing to species loss – so our cycle of overproduction, waste, and disposal to landfill is particularly costly.  Further, production of food requires plastic packaging – much of which isn’t recycled and ends up in oceans or landfills

When a kitchen prevents food waste, it has a positive impact on that whole array of environmental issues. Front line foodservice workers become global change makers, and the kitchen becomes a mission-driven enterprise.

In the last five years alone, Leanpath-empowered kitchens around the world have prevented a combined 40 million pounds of food waste, conserving all of the resources that would otherwise have been consumed in the production of that food, and avoiding all of the greenhouse gas emissions that would have been generated from farm to fork.  That translates to saving over 14 million of gallons of gasoline, removing the annual emissions impact of more than 26,000 vehicles, and saving more than 16 billion gallons of water.

Earth Overshoot Day is nothing to celebrate, but it is an opportunity to remember that while environmental issues can feel daunting, through food waste prevention kitchen staffs can make a real difference.


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Topics: Announcements, Food Waste Policy