How to Calculate Ecological Footprints

How to Calculate Ecological FootprintsEveryone's heard of carbon footprints---maybe you've even calculated yours. But carbon emissions are just one piece of the puzzle that we need to solve to reduce our impact on the planet. The new term "ecological footprint" (EF) addresses energy use as well as food, goods and services, and housing. Determining your EF can be discouraging, but it's a vital step in recognizing, and reducing, your personal environmental impact. Don't let fear or embarrassment hold you back---you can keep your results to yourself. What matters is that you take that first step.


Difficulty: Easy

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Mileage you drive in a year
  • Size of your home in square feet
  • Online calculator (see Resources)
Step 1
Look at your personal energy use. This includes energy used for such things as transportation, heating and cooling, cooking, running appliances, TVs and computers. Be sure to include all forms, such as electricity, natural gas, propane, gasoline or diesel. Include both home and work in your assessment. Do you walk, ride your bike or take public transportation whenever you can? Combine car trips to maximize efficiency? Drive a hybrid or other fuel-efficient car, and keep the tires properly inflated? In your home, do you use energy sparingly? Is your home (including windows and doors) adequately insulated? Are your appliances energy-efficient? What about your thermostat settings?
Step 2
Get a handle on your water use. Do you have low-flow shower heads and low-flush or dual-flush toilets? Turn the water off when brushing your teeth? Do you run your dishwasher or do laundry only when they're full? Do you take your car to a car wash instead of washing it yourself? What about sweeping decks, driveways and sidewalks rather than hosing them off with water?
Step 3
Rate your purchases. Everything you buy has an environmental impact, including energy and water needed to produce it, package it and transport it. Do you buy things that are produced locally, and have minimal or no packaging? Do you buy used items or products made from recycled materials? Do you repair broken items, or replace them with new ones? Do you bring your own bags when you go shopping? What about checking labels for---and avoiding---toxic chemicals and additives?
Step 4
Weigh your diet. What you eat has environmental impact too, much of it hidden in so-called "downstream costs." Do you eat meat? How often? Meat exacts a heavy toll on the planet. Raising livestock requires large amounts of grain, hormones and antibiotics, it often involves cruel treatment of animals, and it creates vast quantities of waste that may not be handled properly, polluting land, air and water. Ranching requires large amounts of land, driving deforestation. Many fisheries are imperiled by over-fishing; do you know which fish are threatened and avoid eating them? Non-organic grain, fruits and vegetables require fertilizers and pesticides that pollute the ecosystem and may be toxic or carcinogenic. Do you buy organic produce when possible? Buy from local growers or farmers markets?
Step 5
Collect your trash. Do you recycle? How much? What about composting? Many people don't recycle, despite widespread availability of curbside collection at home and recycling containers in public places. Others only do so when it's convenient, or don't realize the full spectrum of things that can be recycled. Food and yard waste can be composted, further reducing what goes to landfills---and you can use the compost to enrich your garden.
Step 6
Do a tox screen. Daily life in America for most of us involves the use of many potentially toxic or polluting substances---from personal care items to yard care products. Do you use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers in your yard? Use biodegradable cleaning products and phosphate-free detergent? Do you dispose of prescription drugs properly, or flush them down the toilet?
Step 7
Size up your homestead. How big is your house? Your yard? Do you live in the city, a suburb or rural area? Suburban lifestyles tend to be more energy- and resource-intensive than either rural or compact urban living.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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