Every year, Global Footprint Network (GFN) calculate Earth Overshoot Day, which this year falls on Wednesday 2nd August – today!
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services within a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in the same period. So once that date has passed, we are effectively in deficit to the planet.
This year, we partnered with GFN to produce a set of interactive visualisations to bring the Earth Overshoot data to life. Here’s how we did it.
GFN publish a set of static visuals each year, making it easier for people to understand the key messages, and to share them on social media easily. This year, infogr8 approached them with a view to creating interactive visuals that enable users to see the headline stories in a fresh light, while also interacting with them in an intuitive, user-friendly way.
But both GFN and infogr8 also wanted to put a little more emphasis on solutions. Recent times have understandably seen an onset of climate doom in the press and the public sphere. But while the overriding message behind Earth Overshoot Day is not a positive one, there are a plethora of practical steps that organisations, government agencies and even individuals can take to make a difference to our planet.
Overall, our approach was split into two phases. The first was to bring design and data visualisation best practice to the visuals, keeping a style that matched GFN’s brand and presenting the data in simple yet beautiful ways.
The second was to use our expertise in data storytelling to allow users to interact with the data, draw comparisons, and become more curious about Earth Overshoot Day from different angles.
Together, the three interactives tell a more rounded story about the Day’s importance. They better exemplify the extent of GFN’s work, and ultimately we hope they will encourage users to become more invested in the content and perhaps draw in others who are not already familiar with Earth Overshoot Day.
For this visual, the main focus was to show how Earth Overshoot Day has shifted over time, from 25th December 1971 to 2nd August 2023.
In keeping with the overall theme, we kept the visualisation as simple as possible to maintain focus on the key message: Earth Overshoot Day is on a general trend of getting earlier every year.
To emphasise this point, we created an additional bar chart to act as a highlight on the main chart, showing the user on which years Earth Overshoot Day fell within each month.
The next visual aims to empower the user to answer one of the immediate questions raised by the first visual: How is my country performing in comparison to this global measure?
Here, we’ve created a simple version of an arc Sankey to draw attention to the overshoots for each individual country. Within this visual, you can search for your country (if, indeed, your country goes into overshoot), or you can filter the chart by region or by income group (as defined by GFN).
The final visual in the series, and possibly the most important of the three. A common pitfall of climate change communications and visualisations is the focus on ‘doom and gloom’, which doesn’t leave much room for positive action, or hope.
In response, GFN have worked with their partners to draw up a list of impactful solutions, and to calculate their respective impacts on Earth Overshoot Day. Prior to this visual, this information was still presented on the website, but the user needed to click through to each individual solution to learn how impactful it could be.
To improve the user experience, we created a waffle chart that displays all these solutions, sorted by impact (largest to smallest) and shaded by the solution category as defined by GFN. This enables the user to gain a quick view of all solutions, and to understand where the biggest impact lies. Users can also navigate directly to the solution page on the Earth Overshoot Day website to access more detailed information.
We worked with brilliant data designer Lindsey Poulter on creating the visualisations in Tableau. We asked Lindsey for her thoughts on how she approached the design and her experience of working with infogr8 and GFN on the Earth Overshoot Day project.
Was there anything that you found especially interesting/exciting about the Earth Overshoot brief?
Understanding Earth’s ecological limits is something I believe is crucial for everyone to understand – and sit with how we are using more resources than are sustainable. I believe the concept of Earth Overshoot Day is a really smart way to turn a complex topic into something that is simple and easy to understand (which is also the goal of data viz). I was excited about the opportunity to help find new and creative ways to spread their message!
Were there any challenges that needed to be addressed/overcome while you were working on the project?
For the Earth Overshoot Day graphic, there were minimal data points to work with – just the year and the Earth Overshoot Day that year. We had the number of earths needed to sustain the consumption, but that was just another representation of the same concept of Earth Overshoot Day. This was challenging in that I needed to find a way to still make it visually interesting and different from the existing representation. The ultimate solution though was to create a new attribute to bring in – the month. This allowed for a more summary view of the information (instead of looking at all of the individual days, it aggregated the values up to five different months). Additionally, it added a layer of analysis, as you could easily see the years where the movement of Earth Overshoot was slowing down or speeding up.
Were there any elements/aspects of the finished visuals that you’re especially proud of?
When brainstorming for the visuals, the first thing I asked myself was “what are ways to visually represent something overshooting?” The idea of an arc came to mind, like shooting a basketball. It is not an entirely common visualization – especially not in Tableau – but I am very proud of the way it came together and how it represents a lot of data points in a single viz!
You can view (and share) our co-created visuals live on the Earth Overshoot Day website – just one of the ways in which we’re pushing sustainability forward through data. To do more with your sustainability data, visit our Sustainability page or speak to Stewart.
We'll show you how.Book a call