Consumption

Ecological Footprint

Global Initiatives | Jan 04, 2021

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Source: Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

This is an original article written by Dennis Tan. 

What legacy are you leaving behind?

Ever dreamt of leaving your mark on this world?

I’m sure many of us have. It is, after all, only human to want to leave a legacy that outlasts us.

But what are we really leaving behind?

The Global Footprint Network tells us that Ecological Footprint accounting provides us a measure of the natural capital that is required to meet our consumption and absorb our waste, comparing it to how much the Earth can provide. 

In other words, it considers just how much we are “taking” out of Earth – and how much it can put back.

In just half a century, humanity’s ecological footprint has nearly tripled, indicating a continuously widening gap between what our planet can sustainably provide and what we are actually consuming.

An infographic detailing the ecological footprints of countries in Asia and the Pacific. (Source: Global Footprint’s 2012 Report)

An infographic detailing the ecological footprints of countries in Asia and the Pacific. (Source: Global Footprint’s 2012 Report)

The Global Footprint Network released a report in 2012 detailing the ecological footprint of Asia and the Pacific. Even then, we see that a majority of countries had ecological footprints of more than 1.6 global hectares per capita. This is the maximum amount of resources per person the Earth can provide, without even accommodating for the wildlife that we share this planet with.

With rapid urbanisation and rampant deforestation in the region over the past decade, we can only assume that the ecological footprints of most Asian nations have gone up. 

Southeast Asia alone has seen more than 80 million hectares of its forest vanish since 2005, greatly reducing the region’s natural resources and ability to absorb carbon emissions. Even with the pandemic’s widespread effects on global production, we are set to consume 40% more than the Earth can provide by the end of the year.

What is your personal footprint?

On a personal level, ecological footprints help individuals measure how much of the Earth’s resources they consume on a daily basis.

Using a personal footprint calculator, we are able to visualize our very own impact on Earth. These calculators take into account multiple aspects of your lifestyle in three broad categories: food, housing, and transportation.

Examples of questions from GFN’s personal footprint calculator. (Source: Global Footprint’s Footprint Calculator)

Upon processing your answers using internal metrics,  a report of your personal ecological footprint is generated. This personal footprint is usually presented as your personal Earth Overshoot Day – the date when the human population’s (or in this case, 7.8 billion of your clones) demand for the Earth’s resources exceeds what it can regenerate that year – and the number of Earths it would take to sustain humanity if everyone lived like you!

The author’s personal results. Disastrous… (Source: Global Footprint’s Footprint Calculator)

Although such calculators do not tell us exactly how we can make changes to the way we live to reduce our impact on the Earth, they tell us where we can start

By highlighting to us how much we are consuming in the different areas of our lives, we become aware of where we can first begin making the most difference to lead more sustainable lifestyles. 

Taking the next step forward 

In fact, personal footprint calculators have been shown to have an impact on consumer choices. 

Published this year, research indicates that 78% of participants found these calculators effective in motivating action, especially in food, waste, and recycling. As more consumers start to become more environmentally aware, personal footprint calculators can help them identify areas in their lives that they can change, such as transitioning towards a plant-based diet or using their own containers to take away food.

As consumers place a high value on the sustainability of the products they buy, there has been growing momentum behind companies to strive for sustainable business practices and to communicate their brands to consumers in a way that fuels a shift toward the culture of sustainable living.

Multiple studies were able to prove that consumers resonate more with brands that embrace purpose and sustainability, and are willing to support these brands despite paying extra for their products.

Researchers in Sri Lanka assessed the carbon footprint of a local main service-based organisation to understand the impact of their practices and how they could reduce their carbon footprint. Their study showed that measuring an organisation’s carbon footprint is an effective tool for tracking their impact on the planet and to understand how they can reduce that impact, such as minimising employee commuting or investments in energy-efficient technology for their office. 

If companies want to evolve with their consumers to embrace environmental sustainability, they must be willing to change, offering products and solutions that help their consumers narrow the “intention-action” gap in these key areas of food, waste, and recycling. 

With increasing discourse around the ‘waste crisis’ generated by the ongoing pandemic, the need for sustainable alternatives is now even more pressing.  As consumers become more environmentally knowledgeable, it is critical that companies start innovating to provide consumers with options that are truly sustainable in local contexts, incentivising them towards more sustainable living. 

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