Every human activity demands natural resources and produces waste. The measure of that impact on the environment is called our ecological footprint.
Food Footprint, Carbon Footprint or Ecological Footprint are all terms that are bandied around a lot these days but what do they actually mean?
Well, I will try to explain it as simply as possible.
An Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA), is a means of measuring our consumption and lifestyle against nature’s ability to provide for that consumption and lifestyle.
EFA is widely used around the world as an indicator of environmental sustainability, with many ‘Footprint Calculators’ available for business, retail groups or individuals like you and me to work out how our lifestyle stacks up against our Earth’s resources.
Okay, as an example, if I was to buy a hamburger from a fast food outlet three times a week, what would that mean in terms of my food footprint?
- How much land and water is needed to feed and graze the lucky cow who wins the burger lottery?
- How much carbon is emitted when transporting said cow to it’s final destination?
- How much electricity is used to process the burger?
- How much carbon is emitted while driving to the takeaway shop to buy said burger three times a week?
- What is the additional impact of the burger’s packaging that ends up in the rubbish, only to them be transported to and become part of non biodegradable landfill?
Then assume everybody in the world also bought a burger three times a week.
How many earths do we need for this to be possible; enough land for the cattle to graze on, roads for transporters to drive on, trees to offset carbon emissions, and landfill area needed to dispose of all the packaging?
My scientific guess would be…..a lot, probably.
On the positive side, I don’t buy burgers three times a week. I am partial to a burger every now and then but I know my limits. The other positive is we don’t have to rely on my scientific guesses to work out our impact, for this is where an Ecological Footprint Calculator mentioned above comes into play
The best one I have found which seems to be the most detailed (and also lots of fun) was at WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).
I answered the questionnaire fairly confident that I would receive a positive result, I mean, I’ve made quite a few changes to my lifestyle recently, I’ve made a conscious decision to think, act and live as sustainably as I can.
You can imagine I was horrified to learn after completing the questionnaire that if everyone were to lead my lifestyle we would need, drumroll please…… 2.5 Earths.
At 2.5 Earths, I am just under the standard Australian as I discovered along with these other scary statistics:
- If all countries consumed resources at the rate that Australians do, it would take 3 Earths to support this lifestyle
- In 2007, the Earth’s people used about 50% more natural resources than the planet could regenerate, or in other words humanity used 1.5 Earths to support their lifestyle (up from the 0.7 Earths recorded in 1961)
- As a planet we are currently in a global ecological overshoot, where total demand for ecological goods and services exceeds the available supply and regenerative capacity, while also causing carbon waste accumulation
- Ecological Footprint Calculators are still works in progress and will improve but for now, if anything, they underestimate our actual demand on nature
What Can I Do?
- Use a Footprint Calculator to see how your consumption and lifestyle stacks up
- Make changes wherever you can, even small changes will have a dramatic effect
For me, I was surprised to find that food was still a major contributor to my footprint. I feel like I have been doing quite well but there is still room for improvement.
The use of my car is something that I take for granted also. In the future I hope there will be more opportunity for me to use public transport. But for now I could definitely open my mind to more walking and exchange ‘quick trips’ into the shops with a one shop drive for everything.
How many Earths do you think you would need to support your lifestyle?