DJC Green Building Blog

How big is your “ecological footprint” – and what is it anyway?

Posted on August 25, 2008

Sometimes, I get really cool things in my in-box. The Earth Day Network Ecological Footprint Calculator is one of those things.

The calculator, created by the Global Footprint Network and launched today, measures how many planets it would smallcow.jpgtake to sustain your lifestyle. Like most calculators, you go through a series of questions, pick the answers that fit your lifestyle and watch the results come in. But there are two things that set this calculator apart from the pack: the interactivity and the measurement of an ecological footprint.

First the interactivity. Maybe it's because I grew up in a world of video games but if a tool like this is fun as opposed to bland, I'm a lot more likely to pay attention. And this tool is fun. First, you get to design an avatar (mine had blue spiky hair), and then you get to watch the avatar's world change as you enter choices that correspond to your life. Fun, no?

Second, and more importantly, the ecological footprint. Most calculators out there measure a person's carbon footprint. But how much carbon you generate is only part of your impact as a human being. A carbon measurement doesn't count more esoteric things like how much meat you eat, where you get it and how that affects your impact on the world. 

The ecological footprint, on the other hand, creates a full picture and represents the overall human demand on nature; it compares human consumption with what it takes to regenerate natural resources.

Using this idea, the calculator measures how many planets it would take if the rest of the world lived like you. It's a really visual way of seeing how much you impact the world... versus seeing a large number that you don't really understand. For example, even though I recycle everything, almost always carpool, live in an urban environment etc. etc., if all the world lived like me it would apparently take 3.8 planets. And the majority of that (46 percent) is in services. That surprised me. 

bedzed.jpgThe idea of measuring your impact by planets, then decreasing it, is the push behind One Planet Communities and BioRegional, the groups that brought the world BedZed (at left), one of England's poster children for sustainable living. I wrote about BedZed and One Planet Living in December here in the DJC. According to their numbers, it would take 5.3 planets if the rest of the world lived like the United States does.

There are plans in the works to create One Planet Communities across the world, for more visit www.bioregional.com.

The calculator also offers suggestions after you're done on what you can do to decrease your result, and lets you change your choices so you can see what exactly affected the final total.  

Though it's fun, I don't know how they calculate their numbers and can't comment on whether the amounts are accurate or not. If you have a favorite calculator that you like better than this one, or can comment on the accuracy of the numbers used, please share your information below. New resources are always appreciated.

More info on the calculator at Plime here.

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