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Measuring Our Ecological Footprint
Copyright © Beverley Paine March, 2007

Following on from my blog yesterday I used an Ecological Footprint calculator calculator to derive what I consider to be a more accurate portrayal of total energy use. Remember how I felt that our calculations of carbon emissions fell way short of what I considered to be a realistic portrayal? The calculators we used only took into account the energy we directly consumed via cooking, heating, driving, cooling, etc. It left out the energy that went into the production of everything we consumed.

The calculator on the Ecological Footprint website allowed us to obtain a more accurate representation, as well as comparing our emissions to that of the 'average' Australia and the rest of the world. One of the measurements used is a gha - global hectare.

A global hectare refers to one hectare (approximately soccer field size) of biologically productive space with world-average productivity. The level of what the planet can regenerate on an annual basis is the equivalent of about 1.8 global hectares per person per year.

According to the website, the average Victorian needs 8.1 global hectares of land to sustain his or her lifestyle. If everyone on the planet lived like Victorians, we would need more than four Earths to support us. Multiply that by 4 (as there's 4 adults living here) and you get 32.4gha.

However, it's not as bad as originally thought. Thanks to the downloadable Excel calculator we were able to work out a more accurate picture of what how many global hectares we really consume. We came out with a gha of 16.3, or 4gha each. Translated this means that our household has an ecological footprint of about half what the average Aussie has...

Not bad, but not good either. That's still over 7 soccer fields each... That's far too much land and energy to sustain four adults. We will need to reduce our gha by half - from 4 to just under 2 - to become sustainable.

Ecological Footprint for our lifestyle: 16.3 gha (equivalent to 30 soccer fields)

In order to reduce our footprint to 10gha, or 2.5gha per person, or 23,183kg of carbon dioxide emissions (23.1 tons) I calculated that we would need to cut our meat bill to $2 per person per week, no diary, $10per week per person on fruit and vegies (grow our own basically), and spend $1 a week on grain foods per person each week - bake our own bread, etc. We would spend $4 per week on clothing and shoes each, and $0.50c each on books, magazines, etc. Is this achievable? Hmmm.

This is in addition to continuing with the following reduction strategies:

  • low pressure water means reduced amount of water used in shower and when taps are turned on.
  • 3 minutes showers only use 16 litres of water at this rate.
  • wash dishes once a day
  • using 5 star rated front loading washing machine
  • switch to drip irrigation using rainwater during summer
  • recycle grey water onto fruit trees, etc
  • switch off lights and appliances when not in use (even though we generate all our own power and this is not necessary in summer)
  • use recycled paper for printing, or use duplexer
  • only print what is absolutely necessary
  • buy only recycled or plantation paper for printer/printing
  • recycle printer/toner cartridges, computer parts etc.
  • publish online instead of on paper
  • use Green Bags when shopping
  • choose products with minimal packaging
  • buy in-season or locally grown produce
  • stop buying processed and packaged food
  • plan journeys to run several errands in the one trip
  • compost
  • re-use or recycle everything
  • scavenge more
  • grow most of our own fruit and vegetables
  • increase natural light in house instead of turning on lights

With luck and careful consideration hopefully by the end of the year I'll be able to report that we've cut our emissions and ecological footprint in half!



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care for earth,
care for people,
return surplus,
reduce consumption

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Copyright © Beverley Paine 2002-14. Article from this website may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this entire notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained from the author in order to reprint this article in a published work or to offer it for sale in any form. Please visit Bungala Ridge Permaculture Gardens for more original content by Beverley Paine.