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Sustainability impact targets – new research calls for less talk & more action for 2030

On August 1 this year, humanity had already used nature’s resource budget for the entire year. The costs of this ecological overspending include deforestation; collapsing fisheries; fresh-water scarcity; soil erosion; biodiversity loss; and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and more severe droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes. All of these are becoming more of a threat to our planet.

Since 2010 Earth Overshoot Day – the day when all humanity has used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year - has been getting earlier each year. So, we’ve not managed to reverse it, despite increasing awareness of our planetary boundaries and social thresholds that have already been crossed.

So how are businesses measuring up to their part in the Earth Overshoot Day task? Article 13’s releases its latest annual sustainability practitioner research this week. For the past 3 years they examined what 200 big companies are measuring and reporting plus the targets they are setting. They also conducted over 100 interviews to hear what leading sustainability practitioners are saying.

Highlights include:

  • There’s plenty of measuring going on but targets are lacking

  • 57% of targets are set for 2020. Only 9% of targets are set 2030

  • Continued increase in activity for high profile topics like climate (carbon and energy), pollution (and waste), water and gender equality

  • No evidence of any targets set against the ocean acidification boundary or political voice threshold

  • Shockingly low number of companies setting targets and measures for access to health, food and housing despite the adoption of SDG’s for reporting

It’s time for action as opposed to justifying reductions with lack of context – we need to be pushing for zero in 2030 to reverse the Earth Overshoot Date.

On the plus side we saw the start of a shift, from viewing Planetary Boundaries and Social Thresholds as a risk, to viewing them as an opportunity for future business value. This was supported by increased thinking around brands and engaging consumers in positive stories. Focusing on these opportunities with emergent generations is a powerful way to address the dangerous direction of Earth Overshoot Day.

With this in mind and a 2030 focus required for corporate target setting, Article 13 also asked the most important group of stakeholders on the planet – Gen Z (who will be the influential 28 - 35 year olds in 2030) – what they thought.

Take a look at our short taster film to hear their voice on the subject.

Article 13 has a suite of products to help businesses

  • Benchmark progress

  • Devise meaningful sustainability targets and contextual measures for 2030

  • Understand what matters to their future consumers/customers

  • Communicate beyond reporting

  • Unite business stakeholders in common goals

  • Focus sustainability efforts for brand impact


The research:

Article 13 has been developing its proprietary Project #D approach with 5 years of research, including reviewing how over 200 of the world’s largest companies measure and set sustainability targets, reviewing 53 of the world’s largest corporates’ risk disclosures, reviewing existing tools, frameworks and regulatory requirements to understand where planetary boundaries and social thresholds fit within these, and interviewing over 100 sustainability experts to understand how other sectors, industries and countries are considering planetary boundaries and social thresholds.

Article 13 Project #D approach offers corporates a different way to think about their sustainability agenda. Project #D encourages CEOs to use planetary boundaries and social thresholds as the guiding practice for business sustainability and ensuring their companies’ future viability. Co-developed and road-tested by leading companies, this pragmatic approach provides global relevancy that is grounded in science.


In 2009, Rockström et al identified nine ‘planetary life support systems’ essential for human survival, which if crossed could result in severe, abrupt and possibly irreversible environmental change to our planet. Raworth (2012 and 2016) has combined the nine planetary boundaries with twelve social thresholds. Together this model sets out the environmental boundaries which we must not cross and the basic social thresholds which we must strive to ensure every person reaches. These boundaries and thresholds informed the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals.


Article 13 are business sustainability experts, typically in the areas of risk, measurement and reporting. Article 13 advocates the adoption of planetary boundaries and social thresholds as the global guiding practice for business sustainability.

To arrange a business briefing: Contact Dr Jim Ormond and Jane Fiona Cumming, lead research authors and consultants at Article 13;

+44 (0)208 840 4450

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