Ecological Overshoot: A sustainability discussion framework

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Welcome to the first post of NAIOPWA's new Sustainability Mindset Blog, presented by the Sustainability Committee. The committee would like to further the discussion of sustainability with the greater NAIOPWA community and help nurture a sustainability mindset. We will produce a new post every couple of months, so please check back periodically for your next dose of content. You can also download the NAIOPWA app, follow NAIOPWA on Twitter, and subscribe to NAIOPWA's weekly email updates to be alerted when new posts go live.

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Ecological Overshoot: A sustainability discussion framework

If you find yourself discussing sustainability, the topic of carbon-emission climate change often dominates the discussion. Yet there is a more urgent topic to address, one which affects us all to an even greater degree: ecological overshoot.

The earth has only so much capacity to sustainably support humanity at its current consumption rate. In fact, humanity is using up to twice the resources the earth can provide through its bio-capacity. This means it takes our planet up to two years to regenerate what we use in a year. We are using more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate and, as you can imagine, we can only do this for so long before the earth’s resources are consumed.

This is ecological overshoot. This is not living sustainably.

In the United States, we have a large per capita footprint—the impact each individual makes via resource consumption—and consume a globally disproportionate share of resources. As a country, we’re actually using nearly 2.5 times our bio-capacity annually, which give us a greater moral obligation to reduce the overshoot—and also a greater opportunity to do so.

There are many aspects to ecological overshoot, including but not limited to:

  • Over-consuming and polluting water sources
  • Habitat destruction and species loss
  • Over-consumption of non-renewable energy resources
  • Over-harvesting forests
  • Over-fishing of ocean fish stocks
  • Topsoil erosion and salinization

What might a NAIOPWA member do to reduce this ecological overshoot? Following are some ideas for creating and using the built environment to be more in balance with Earth’s bio-capacity:

  • Develop with a priority for density: Reduce sprawl by developing, investing in and occupying locations that are walkable and close to infrastructure, including transit/bike resources and established utilities.
  • Develop & consume wisely: Reduce resource usage by using energy-efficient light fixtures, efficient conditioning systems and low-flow plumbing fixtures. Select local products and resources as much as possible.
  • Influence occupant behavior and consumption through property management practices: Encourage recycling by providing education and facilities, encourage transit use by providing information in common areas, and encourage bike usage by providing bike and shower facilities. Reduce energy and water use with energy-efficient lighting and flow reduction devices.
  • Support existing ecologically focused built environment: Develop, invest in, and lease from sustainable buildings such as those with LEED and Energy-Star certification.
  • Landscape ecologically: Provide landscaping for a pollinator network around your building.
  • Build occupancy thoughtfully: Select tenants such as restaurants and retailers that source sustainable products.

Focusing the sustainability discussion on how to reduce our ecological overshoot can help us bring sustainability to a broader audience and leave the earth in better shape for future generations.

Learn More:
Why climate change isn't our biggest environmental problem  

Calculate your individual impact: The Global Footprint Network fully explains ecological overshoot and provides a “footprint” calculator to help measure your own individual impact.

The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change

This article was written by NAIOP Washington State and Sustainability Committee member Matt Elley, VP - Development, AMLI Development Co.

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