The "one planet living" concept, which says that if every country used the same amount of resources as the UK we would need three planets to survive, has been used by WWF for some years to put across the idea that the planet’s resources are finite and should not be consumed faster than they can regenerate.
David Miliband was quick to adopt the phrase after he became Environment Secretary last year.
In March, WWF launched its "one planet business" initiative to make the concept more relevant to businesses and consumers.
Unlike sustainability initiatives which focus on business sectors, the programme’s starting point will be the need to limit consumer demand to what the planet can sustain. The need to address the ecological overshoot of existing supply and demand patterns was raised in a WWF report last year (ENDS Report 382, p 6 ).
The initiative invites firms, local and national governments, EU institutions, consumer groups and investors to collaborate to develop ways to service rising demand for products and services within the bounds of natural resource availability and climate change.
Mr Miliband was among 150 politicians and business leaders meeting in March to start the process. At the meeting he said a shift towards a low-carbon economy and protection of resources had a role in reducing the risk of environment-related conflict.
A WWF report on the initiative warns of the business risks of rising raw material and carbon costs, reduced quality of resources such as water, stricter environmental standards and shifts in public pressure. It calls on organisations joining the forum to collaborate to redesign systems and create opportunities for innovation in a resource and emissions-constrained market.
Oliver Greenfield, head of WWF’s sustainable business unit and director of the one planet business programme said participants would look at the range and scale of changes required "to create value for shareholders and consumers within the ecological reality."
"We need to consider demand management as well as technological and operational potential to unleash opportunities," he said.
The growing importance of sustainability issues means the time is ripe for such intervention, according to Nick Robins, Henderson Global Investors’ head of SRI funds and a member of the one planet business advisory committee.
He said analyses by WWF and consultants SustainAbility set the programme apart from similar initiatives. They used ecological and carbon footprints and material flow analysis to identify areas where consumer demand puts the greatest strains on ecological and carbon limits: housing, food and mobility.
"One planet business is more than just another process," said Mr Robins. "It’s testing ways to reduce footprints of key areas of the economy in a positive and creative way."
Some 40 people who help shape the transport system met in March to discuss mobility, the first area to be addressed. Representatives from public transport firms, carmakers, fuel producers, aircraft manufacturers and airlines, technology providers and consumer groups will, over the next ten months, develop a joint action plan on delivering sustainable personal mobility.
Among them is Ford Europe’s sustainability director, Andrew Taylor, who said he was "intrigued by WWF’s broad perspective on mobility and the way it brought together both new and traditional firms from different parts of the transport sector."
Organisations will initially look at involving further stakeholders in the EU and other regions to explore commercialisation of low-carbon technologies and transforming service models, including reducing demand through lifestyle changes.
Ford hopes to enlarge its influence and understanding through the project. "I hope that there are solutions which haven’t been thought about yet," said Mr Taylor. But he warned that European projects must "be done on the basis of keeping Europe competitive."
Mr Robins said the programme "is distinctly pro-enterprise, supporting a process that rewards enterprise and innovation, whether by incumbents or new companies."
Using the programme to encourage mobility changes could prove challenging, with the car industry still smarting from EU proposals for a mandatory carbon dioxide emissions target for new vehicles following a failed voluntary agreement (ENDS Report 385, p 51 ).
Mr Robins agreed that getting carmakers to back regulatory developments to address environmental externalities and generate revenue would be a challenge. But he said organisations in the mobility project saw the strategic importance of these issues and were "willing to try to cooperate with one another to develop recommendations on how business and policy could achieve sustainability."
One of the initiative’s attractions for Henderson Global Investors was WWF’s ability to mobilise supporters globally and help close the gap between sustainable supply patterns and consumer demand.
For one planet business solutions to be scaled up, consumers and institutional customers will need to support them through buying decisions. The wider one planet living campaign, developed by WWF and the BioRegional Development Group, aims to raise awareness among consumers on how they can support sustainability. The campaign will seek to make sustainability issues aspirational and about improving quality of life.
Mr Robins said: "The organised delivery of consumer spending power can become very powerful. This has the prospect of potentially leading to real market change with consumer backing."