In my last post, I focused on sustainability in the business environment. But what does sustainability mean for us as individuals, in our personal lives, in our homes? Wikipedia outlines sustainability for humans as:
“the potential for long-term improvements in well-being, which in turn depend on the well-being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.”
Okay, so how does that translate to everyday life for the individual or family? How can it be measured? Carbon footprint is a common term bantered about these days. It is actually a subset of a larger metric called the Ecological footprint, which Wikipedia describes as:
“a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It compares human demand with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate.”
In 2005, humanity was using ecological services 1.3 times as fast as Earth could renew them. (Wikipedia source: Global Footprint Network. 2008-10-29.) Ecological footprint is measured in the number of global hectacres (gha) it takes to support humans. In 2005, it took 2.1 gha of the earth’s surface to support all aspects of each individual human on the planet. (In the US it was 9.4 gha per person.)
The subsets of the ecological footprint include:
- Carbon footprint – (Home energy and all forms of transport)
- Food footprint – (Agricultural and delivery)
- Housing footprint – (Details about your home)
- Goods and Services – (Purchasing, services, water, waste, etc.)
I found a website that has a free ecological footprint calculator. It’s a ballpark number, but you might want to check it out. Here’s my family’s result: (Average per family member.)
Well, we are better than the average American at 9.4, but we’ve got work to do for sure.
Here’s some things to consider that can help reduce the ecological footprint on a personal or home level:
Energy is a big contributor. Find out from your provider what percent of the energy they supply is alternate energy. They can give you that information. If it’s low, ask them why and what their plans are. Check with their website, they often have deals or tricks or tips that can save energy and money. Consider solar power for your home. Many solar panel companies now have creative, longer term payment plans. Check into local, state and federal credits.
Reduce energy consumption by turning off things when not in use. We’ve saved ~23% since the first of the year with a few simple steps. Convert to energy efficient light bulbs. When old appliances break down, be sure to get energy efficient replacements. Consider on-demand hot water heaters when it’s time to replace the old one.
Use public transit more, walk or ride a bicycle when possible. Fly less. Fi nd out if your food is locally grown as product transportation is a major CO2 contributor and energy consumer. Go to farmer s markets for your produce. Buy organic if it’s not too expensive. Sometimes it’s just a few pennies per pound more and buying local helps the local economy. Start growing a backyard organic garden. It’s fun too! Eat less animal products as they require far more energy (and have a larger ecological footprint) than plant products. We started having a vegetarian meal or salad for dinner twice a week.
Install low flow toilets, or at least upgrade the mechanical components. Install low flow shower heads and sink aerators. Transform your yards into water-wise landscaping by planting indigenous plants.
Take a second look at how well you are really doing on recycling (I have many blog post tips on this. Search for recycle on the main page.) With a few steps and a little work, we reduced our landfill waste by more than 90%. Some weeks I don’t even take out the regular garbage can. Check the numbers on plastics (including lids) to find out if they can be recycled. Start composting your yard and food waste.
Purchase items with minimal packaging. Stop your junk mail. Convert to on-line banking, credit card statements and utility billings.
Buy things that are designed to last and that can be repaired. Reuse empty containers, save plastic bags from bread and other items for reuse, take advantage of thrift stores and find creative ways to bring new life to old belongings. Join groups like freecycle, where you can look for or post offers for free items you no longer need. It’s like craigslist, but all items must be for free.
After all that, if you still want to get to an even smaller ecological footprint, there are websites and organizations that will accept your CO2 offset donations. For example my wife’s Honda gets 27 mpg. At 12,000 miles /year, she could offset her 3.94 tons of CO2 generated by donating $39.42 /year. This money would go towards a company (already committed to reducing their CO2), add additional programs (funded by my wife’s and other’s offsets) to drop their CO2 by the number of tons her and other contributor’s vehicles generated that year. Theoretically, then my wife can drive up to 12,000 miles with a zero carbon footprint because of the offset. Here’s a link to the one I used for the post, but I haven’t validated their credentials, so do your homework before donating: http://www.carbonfund.org
Okay readers, what have I missed? Let me know so I can update, or perhaps post about your great idea.