Since the onset of the industrial revolution, humans have transformed natural ecosystems to enable goods and services production—converting forests to agricultural and industrial land, processing natural resources to develop innovative infrastructure and products, and engaging in the widespread use of fossil fuels for energy. Despite improving quality of life, particularly for the Western world, these practices have pushed the Earth beyond the boundaries that define a safe environment for humanity. At present, the global economy emits excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, consumes too much water, alters the use of too much natural land, produces excessive novel entities, and compromises biosphere integrity. Excessive GHG emissions and changes in the use of natural land are also contributing to climate change at an unprecedented rate. Between 2011 and 2020, global surface temperatures increased 1.1°C above preindustrial levels. This rise in temperature has triggered a chain reaction of adverse environmental effects, including rising sea levels, increased flooding, droughts, and forest fires.
Environmental considerations aside, the urgent need to address climate change and other environmental harms is putting environmental criteria at the forefront of government policy and regulations, corporate social responsibility strategies, financial reporting frameworks, and more. Further, it is creating new criteria for future success and growth for many industries around the world.