Before people can learn to live sustainably, several key questions must be answered:
- How do we measure our impact, and therefore benchmark ‘sustainable living’?
- What constitutes a sustainable community or lifestyle?
Ecological Footprinting is a globally applicable, resource accounting tool that can help us answer these questions. The very concept of One Planet Communities is based on ecological footprint analysis – they are communities where it is measurably possible to lead a genuinely sustainable ‘one planet’ lifestyle.
Simply put, Ecological Footprinting measures humanity’s demands upon nature in comparison to the biologically productive land and water available to us.
Every component of our lifestyle is broken down into the productive land and sea required to provide us with this good or service. The number of ‘global hectares’ (gha) needed to produce our food, sequester the carbon we emit, absorb the pollution we produce and meet our energy demands can all be calculated. The resulting total can then be compared to our ‘fair share’ of land and water, which is the world’s biologically productive land and sea divided by the global population, while leaving some designated proportion of land for wildlife and wilderness.
In our work with One Planet Communities we assess the ecological footprint of an ‘average’ resident of the community, by using locally specific baseline data and adapting this to the specifics of the proposed community. The main outcomes of this work are:
- Ecological footprint of a resident under a range of scenarios; e.g. average national transposed to the OPC or an environmentally conscious resident
- A quantitative assessment of the strategies proposed in the One Planet Action Plan to assess the effectiveness of the strategies and identify gaps where more attention is required
- The basis of a tool that can be developed to make a bespoke ecological footprint tool that can be used as part of the on-going communication strategy with residents
- A clear understanding of the savings been driven by the buildings, technology and infrastructure versus those that need to be delivered by a change in residents lifestyle.
For more information about Ecological Footprinting please visit the Global Footprint Network website.
What does Ecological Footprinting tells us about developing a sustainable community?
When you separate out the various components of the Ecological Footprint of a “typical” individual in the UK the relative importance of lifestyle choices, compared to the impact of our buildings, becomes clear.
In fact 75% of a household’s Ecological Footprint are from activities such as food consumption, waste generation, day-to-day transport and the use of shared infrastructure and services (e.g. banking and hospitals) rather than from the energy used to heat our homes or the materials used to build them.
Consequently, in striving to achieve a sustainable future, we need to design communities where people can choose to live sustainably.
In such communities, the commuting distance between home and work, where the food comes from and how waste is dealt with will be as important as, if not more important than, the energy performance of the buildings. Infrastructure such as district hot water solutions and car clubs will be as important as building insulation.