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Earth Overshoot Day 2020: What it tells us about what we need to do

James Robey

Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In 2019, we had this day on July 29, the earliest it had been since the Global Footprint Network started calculating this day in the 1970s.

This year, the date has moved to August 22 – last time Earth Overshoot Day was that late was in 2005, a good 15 years earlier. This is a positive development but not without a huge cost. Global lockdowns have caused unprecedented unemployment, paralysis of industry, and the plunging of the global economy into recession.

It’s likely that much of these gains will be eliminated if the world economy returns back to business as usual as the COVID-19 lockdowns ease. To keep us on the path towards sustainability, governments and businesses must re-evaluate and reimagine the way we can live and work – achieving a true and lasting change can only be achieved by a conscious, concerted effort.

At Capgemini, for over a decade, we have been focused on sustainability, reducing our own carbon footprint and keeping a check on our use of resources. We have introduced a range of innovative programs across our global business, with a particular focus on our key impact areas of business travel and energy. Our Environmental Sustainability Performance report 2019/20 provides more insights on how we have reduced our travel emissions by 22% per employee, our use of energy by 20% (vs 2015) and how we almost doubled our use of renewable energy in 2019 alone. In January, well before the global lockdowns, we crossed the milestone of our headline 2030 science-based target to reduce emissions per employee by 30%, a full decade ahead of schedule.

Building on this solid foundation, we have now committed to become a net zero business by 2030

Climate science is clear in that the extent of global warming is proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that human activities add to the atmosphere. So, in order to stabilize climate change, carbon emissions need to fall to zero. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report in 2018 recommending that nations must do what they can to stabilize global warming at a safe level of 1.5°C. To do so, global emissions must be net zero by 2050 and must be cut in half by 2030.

In response to this challenge, in June this year, we committed as a founding member of United Nation’s RaceToZero, a new global campaign to mobilize leadership from businesses, cities, regions and investors to achieve net zero by 2050. Race to Zero is an important stepping-stone for accelerating action on climate change in advance of COP26. Following this, in July, we announced our own target to become carbon neutral no later than 2025 and net zero by 2030.

The next ten years are going to be defining for Capgemini, as they will be for the world in our race against time to tackle climate change. With a bold ambition, we will remain steadfast in our focus on our use of resources, especially around energy and travel. We will accelerate our carbon reduction strategy, which will be underpinned by a new set of science-based targets in line with keeping global temperature increases to no more than 1.5 °C.

Key components of our roadmap to net zero will include:

  • Our focus on energy will see us accelerate our program with new efficiency targets across our estate, and a commitment to switch to 100% renewable electricity globally.
  • Secondly, our travel program is critical – and in many ways the biggest challenge for us and our sector. We will build on our experience of lockdown, which has seen businesses challenged to think about the necessity of working in offices. Virtual collaboration has always been a core part of our approach to our sustainable travel initiatives, and in fact last year in the UK our investment in technology and training on virtual collaboration was critical in helping us reduce our travel emissions by 13% in 2019. This experience, and of course the fact that we are a tech company, has meant that we were able to switch fairly rapidly to 97% of our global workforce working at home.
  • Beyond this, we will move our fleet towards electric vehicles and start focusing on employee commuting.

By starting with reducing our own operational impact first, we will achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2025, with any residual emissions being offset through a high-quality removal- based carbon offsets such as re-forestation. These will cover all our operational impacts including energy, travel, commuting, water and waste.

We will then accelerate our ambition to become a net zero business in 2030, expanding our neutrality to include our entire value chain. This will start with reducing the impacts of the goods and services we buy in line with a 1.5°C target, and then offsetting the remainder using removals resulting in net zero impact.

Client sustainability – the most material positive impact we can deliver as a business

Recognizing that many of our clients have environmental footprints hundreds of times larger than our own, we are collaborating with our clients to support their sustainability goals as well. We set ourselves a target over two years ago, to help our clients to transition towards a low carbon future through our portfolio of consulting, and technology service.

Through Capgemini Invent, in 2019 we launched our approach for a Sustainable Business Revolution and shared expertise in areas including electric vehicles, smart cities and renewable energy. This paper goes on to explain why carbon emissions are now such a business-critical issue and describe the coming decade as one characterized by disruption and reinvention. Our innovation and strategy team at Fahrenheit 212, have also developed an approach to help organizations transition to cleaner business models through Clean Growth.

Change and collective action go together

Lasting change can be achieved only by collective action – our net zero ambition will need the contribution of all our 270,000 people. It’s their behaviors, their commitments to make lifestyle changes around commuting, client delivery, and consumption that will make this ambition successful.  As a business, we will strive to create strategies and an environment that will enable and empower our people to make long term sustainable choices and help transition to one-planet prosperity.