Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A new start

So, it's been a while since I posted here. I promised to talk a little more about the ecological footprint and what it means. The websites I shared in the original post have plenty to say about what's being measured, so I'll be brief.

Your ecological footprint is the total area of land and water required to support your lifestyle, measured in global hectares (or 10,000 sq meters or, for my metrically challenged compatriots, 2.471 acres). Even in acres, it can be difficult to visualize that kind of space and translate it into a meaningful way of understanding the impact of contemporary lifestyles on our planet; so many sites will also list your footprint in terms of the number of planets required if everyone lived like you. It’s really a comparison of the demands we make on nature versus the ability of our environment to regenerate itself. If this concept is starting to sounds like "carrying capacity" to you, you're not far off. William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, environmental planners, developed the concept (originally called “appropriated carrying capacity”) and the calculations in the early 1990s and have been instrumental in research and policy ever since.

If you haven’t already calculated your footprint, please give it a try—it’s quick and easy. If you saved your results, take a look at the specific areas of consumption and see where you’re creating the largest impact. Chances are it will be your food footprint or your carbon footprint. For those of you who might be a little confused by the term, carbon footprint is a measure of household energy and transportation consumption. Some people use this term interchangeably with ecological footprint, but your ecological footprint is a more comprehensive measurement. Your food footprint includes more than just the land and ocean used to raise your food and includes food processing, storage, and transportation. Your goods and services footprint is probably also quite high because we buy more stuff than any other country on the planet. There are a few really easy fixes on this one: donate or swap things you no longer need, recycle everything you can, and buy less stuff. Your housing footprint is typically small, perhaps deceptively so, compared to other areas of consumption. Your housing footprint really measures the construction materials used to build and/or maintain your home, yet it also has a direct relationship to your carbon footprint. Say you live with three roommates in a 1000 square foot home. Both your housing and your carbon footprints will be much smaller than a couple who share a 1500 square foot home….UNLESS that couple has taken measures to improve the energy efficiency of that home and keep their thermostat set lower in winter and higher in summer. In that case, the couple would still have a larger housing footprint, but perhaps a lower carbon footprint. The point I want to emphasize with this example is that there is no single solution for lowering your ecological footprint.

The approach I will take in writing this blog is that each of us, no matter how big or small our initial ecological footprint, has room to improve. If you are reading this post, you are choosing to make a change for the better and I applaud your commitment. For my part, I will support you on this journey by offering some principles for a greener lifestyle, sharing inspiring stories, and distilling out some of the green tips with the greatest impact in each of the key areas of your footprint.

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