Kate Meyer is the creator of Planetary Accounting, a model to connect human decision-making with Earth’s environmental limits. She co-authored the book The Planetary Accounting Framework: Understanding Your Environmental Impact, which gives humans a science-based guide for ‘how much’ we can use and ‘how far’ we can push our planet. She is also the Business Director for Sustainability at Beca, leading its efforts working with clients to achieve positive sustainability outcomes.
Kate Meyer founded her not-for-profit the Planetary Accounting Network exactly ten years after graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Auckland.
It is the result of four years of PhD research at Curtin University in Perth - including a one-year research/adventure sabbatical in a campervan across Europe - to design a scientific framework that translates the limits of our planet into a decision-making tool.
Kate has always been interested in sustainability - her final year engineering project was designing a set of sustainable skis.
“I left high-school early and taught skiing for several years before enrolling in engineering because I wanted to design skis. I was pretty overwhelmed by the curriculum in the first year, but so many of my lecturers and tutors really went above and beyond to help me get up to speed.”
Among them was Professor Carol Boyle who encouraged Kate to focus on sustainability. After graduating in third place overall in mechanical engineering, Kate found her purpose working with engineering firms including Beca and Arup advising on environmental impacts of buildings.
“I soon noticed a large gap between the science of sustainability, and business and government approaches to sustainability. I went back to university to look at how to address this. It was a long journey – including a drama filled research sabbatical year travelling Europe in a caravan with two small children and my husband – but the result was a tangible solution, Planetary Accounting.”
Kate explains, there are nine Planetary Boundaries established by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (one of the key stops on her research sabbatical) which include climate change, ocean acidification, and land-use change, to name a few.
“We are exceeding at least five, and likely seven of these boundaries. Planetary Accounting is not just about limiting further impact, it is about quantifying what we need to do to get back to within the Planetary Boundaries.”
At the Planetary Accounting Network, Kate is working on a labelling system for everyday products and services, a bit like nutrition labels on food but disclosing environmental impacts in context, such as ‘this product consumes 10 percent of an average person’s daily carbon limit’.
“Ideally, I’d like Planetary Accounting to be ubiquitous, used by the UN, governments and the private sector worldwide.
“There are some big logistical and data challenges but over time with new developments in technology I believe they are surmountable.”
Her book is co-authored with her PhD supervisor Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University, whom she says encouraged her to achieve what she never thought possible. “He is the most positive environmental activist I have ever met. Many times on my post-grad journey I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew but Peter always calmly encouraged me to carry on – and if anything – to set the bar even higher.”
“So much of the journey has felt slow and frustrating. Even over the last two years, which has seen huge acceleration in the global sustainability movement, we are still not moving at the pace we need to. It is hard because change is always messy and many people dislike it, but we are running out of time to limit major, irrevocable, global change so we have to work together to operate within the planet’s limits.”