World Environment Day 2021: Reimagine, Recreate and Restore
This year’s theme for the United Nations World Environment Day is Reimagine, Recreate and Restore. Every year on the 5th June, the UN Environment Programme reminds us that we are all responsible for the planet and encourages people to find unique and creative ways to solve one of the most pressing issues of our time — how to live sustainably on this beautiful life-sustaining blue and green dot.
We cannot turn back time. But we can grow trees, green our cities, rewild our gardens, change our diets and clean up rivers and coasts. We are the generation that can make peace with nature. Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid. Join #GenerationRestoration — UN Environment
As a recipient of the UN Environment’s 2016 Champion of the Earth award, I have written much before on the reasons why we need to spend every day working on planetary sustainability, and in 2019, in partnership with the UN, we launched a global initiative for activating sustainable lifestyles globally called The Anatomy of Action.
The “Reimagine, Recreate and Restore” theme of this year’s World Environment Day really resonates with all the ways we have been working to activate positive transformation through the UnSchool. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to explore the possibilities that we all have right in front of us to help bring about positive global change.
Every action we take has an impact on the world around us — we can make micro changes that lead to macro benefits, especially if these are multiplied by many.
A massive half of the world’s GDP depends on natural systems and services, with every $1 invested in restoration, generating nearly $30 in economic benefits. Imagine how much positive global change we could have toward sustainability if more businesses, governments and individuals took this on as a goal for this decade.
Ecosystem restoration is not just about replanting trees and supporting natural spaces to rewild. Whilst this is very important, it’s also about actively divesting from companies and products that are related to deforestation to begin with.
One of the worst offenders is the production of animal feed for livestock for the factory farming industry. It’s well documented (see here, here, here, here, here and here for an overview of this issue) that the increase in beef consumption is linked directly to massive parts of the Amazon rainforest (and many others) being destroyed for the production of soy to feed cows (even though cows should really eat grass and the soy increases the methane they produce as it affects their digestion process, so it’s a double negative).
Reuters recently reported that “nearly 70% of tropical forests cleared for cattle ranching and crops such as soybeans and palm oil were deforested illegally between 2013 and 2019.”
The statistics site Our World in Data explains, “Every year the world loses around 5 million hectares of forest. 95% of this occurs in the tropics. At least three-quarters of this is driven by agriculture — clearing forests to grow crops, raise livestock and produce products such as paper.”
Ecosystem restoration is critical to sustainability because we all rely on the services provided by nature to sustain life on Earth. Everything is interconnected, so when we destroy one system, we start to erode the capacity for all other systems to work in balance. This is one of the fundamental concepts of sustainability, from the human body to the planet as a whole, all systems work towards a state of homeostasis, or harmony.
Sustainability is about finding the ways of working within natural systems, not against them as the current linear economy does.
All of our consumption choices have direct impacts on the natural world, by understanding these hidden impacts, we can each start to make more activated daily choices which in turn will send price signals to producers to change their practices. This does not excuse the immediate need for all companies and industries to get their act together and redesign their business models, products and service deliveries to ensure that what they are offering is sustainable and not exploitative.
This is what we explored and shared through the Anatomy of Action project that we did with the UN Environment. One of the most effective lifestyle swaps we can each do is protein swapping to sources that have lower impacts, be it increasing your vegetable intake or investing in meat products that have been produced ethically. Find out more here >
One of the key solutions to addressing the rapid loss of important ecosystems through deforestation is by disrupting unsustainable supply chains. This requires businesses to activate sustainability by assessing and changing their procurement practices and individuals to switch up their consumption habits.
Sustainability in supply chains requires a full-systems perspective of what is going on at all aspects from material extraction, sourcing methods, processing, distribution, sales and customer use. Since sustainability is about the social, environmental and economic impacts of our actions, supply chain sustainability looks at the impacts on humans through work conditions, the environmental impacts of extraction and processing, through to the economic aspects as well.
The UN Global Compact was set up by the United Nations to support business leaders and supply chains in developing sustainable solutions. Over 13,000 companies have signed up and follow the 10 principles in the framework shown in the image above.
There are many pioneering businesses and organizations reimagining and redesigning how they offer their services and products so that they are more circular, sustainable and regenerative. Consumer product companies such as Loop, Mud Jeans, Fair Phone and To Good to Go are examples of closed-loop business models that reduce waste and resource exploitation through better product design and service delivery approaches.
Many of the causes of deforestation and ecosystem destruction are human-related, they are by design. We can redesign these unsustainable systems and create new ways of meeting our needs that work within nature’s systems, not against them. This has been one of my career missions, to help equip designers and producers with the tools and capacity to transform the way we design and produce everything so that it fits within a circular and sustainable economic system.
Each and every one of us can activate lifestyle and consumption changes, but of course, we need the world’s product and service providers to transform the way they do business and deliver value to the economy.
This requires leadership, and thankfully we are starting to see that happen from many different sectors. In part, these changes are a result of consumer pressure, government regulation and the strategic foresight of CEO’s and executives who know the writing is on the wall. As we face major environmental issues like climate change, ocean plastic waste and the sixth mass extinction, we are now faced with the challenge of finding solutions in how we produce energy, products, services and close the loop on how we produce everything.
This World Environment Day, take some time to look at the five main lifestyle areas we all participate in — food, stuff, movement, money and fun — and consider what lifestyle swaps you can make right now that will send price signals to companies to work toward larger positive society shifts. A great and simple act is calling your bank and divesting if they are supporting deforestation (and many of the major ones are in some way). You can contact your energy provider and ask about renewables, and then swap providers if they don’t offer it. Call your superannuation, 401K, or investment fund and ask about ethical investment to make sure your savings are not supporting an unsustainable future.
This is not about one of us individually saving the world; it’s about all of us taking actions through all of our daily practices to help change the economy and culture. That’s how, as individuals, we can help to design a better future. When enough of us change our actions, then the economy changes in response to our demands.
We can design this decade to be one of positive disruption and #generationrestoration.
For a dose of inspiration watch Shane Koyczan’s incredible spoken word poem on why we should all work towards shouldering the responsibility of changing the world
As part of our celebration of the 2021 World Environment Day this weekend, the UnSchool is offering 50% off everything in our online learning system. Take half the price off all our full courses, short introduction classes, toolkits and handbooks, absolutely everything we do. Between the 3rd and 6th June 2021, use the code: RESTORE2021. If you are signing up for one of our certification tracks or subscription packs, then you get 50% off the first month of your subscription.