This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on January 11, 2021.
Okay, EcoWarriors. I have something to admit... 😬
My ecological footprint has grown over the last two years! Gahhhhhhh!!
Now, my life has changed a lot in the last two years, but nonetheless I was not expecting these results from my footprint calculator.
But first...lemme back up for a sec. What the heck is an ecological footprint calculator and why does it matter?
In the same vein as last week’s personal waste audits post - calculating our ecological footprint is important so that we can be sure we are focusing our sustainability efforts in the right places. It’s especially useful if we’re simply not sure how to start living more sustainably.
It can be so easy to look at one aspect of our life, give ourselves a pat on the back, and ignore the rest.
To be clear, I’m not saying that we should feel bad or guilty about our footprint, and in fact I’ve shared in the past why I don’t have eco-guilt.
What I am saying is that it’s so important to be honest with ourselves. When we’re honest with ourselves, we can see our impacts and we can strive to do better - what we can, when we can, and where we can.
What is an ecological footprint?
In simple terms, an ecological footprint measures how much nature we have (our biocapacity) versus how much nature we use. It tells us if we are over-using the resources we have on our planet (running a biocapacity deficit) or if we have more resources available than we are using (running a biocapacity reserve).
This is different from a carbon footprint, because carbon footprints measure the amount of carbon we produce through our daily activities. An ecological footprint, on the other hand, measures how much land (and sea) is needed to provide the resources we need and to absorb our carbon emissions.
What is biocapacity? Why does it matter?
Ideally, we will have a biocapacity reserve. In this case, the planet’s natural resources can regenerate faster than we are consuming them.
Unfortunately, we know that is not the case for most of us.
Here in the US, our biocapacity per person is about 3.5 global hectares (gha). Essentially, each person in the United States is allotted 3.5 hectares of resources.
However, the average ecological footprint per person in the United States is 8.1 global hectares. So, each person in the United States uses about 8.1 hectares of resources.
Ya see the problem here?
We are running a biocapacity deficit of about -4.6 global hectares per person.
In other words, if everyone on the planet lived like we do here in the States, we would need 5.03 planet Earths to support us.
Spoiler alert: we only have one planet Earth. 🌎
Let’s compare this to, for example, our Canadian neighbors.
Canada’s biocapacity per person: 15.0 gha
Canada’s ecological footprint per person: 8.1 gha
Canada’s biocapacity reserve: +6.9 gha
Number of earths: 5.1
Notice the footprint is the same, but the biocapacity (available resources) is much greater. So, Canada’s biocapacity is a reserve of +6.9, compared to our deficit of -4.6, but their number of earths is still the same.
Let’s add in a few more comparisons for my fellow data nerds. 😉
Fascinating stuff, right?!
Why should I know my personal ecological footprint?
In case you can’t tell by now, I’m a data nerd, so I personally just love knowing these numbers and understanding why they are the way they are.
But knowing our personal ecological footprint also has the power to ground us, to focus our efforts, and give us a goal to work towards.
Because, to paraphrase what I said last week, we can’t begin to reduce our impact if we do not first know our impact.
What’s included in our ecological footprint?
The ecological footprint calculator measures five categories of consumption:
- Food (pretty self-explanatory; the foods we eat)
- Shelter (the type and size of housing we live in, what it’s made of, its efficiency, how many people live together)
- Mobility (transportation - how far we travel, modes of transportation, efficiency)
- Goods (products we consume, physical waste)
- Services (services provided to us as a society, including medical, education, government, military, etc.)
These five categories give us a robust look at our impact on the planet, and which aspects of our lives have the greatest impact. Therefore, which areas of sustainability we should focus the most on, in order to have the greatest positive impact.
This is how I imagine myself when my footprint calculator shows me happy results 😅
How do I calculate my ecological footprint?
I LOVE the calculator from Global Footprint Network. It’s simple, and it’s colorful. I really like color 😁 They’re also super transparent with how they make their calculations, and what standards they use.
After you’ve answered a few questions as honestly as possible (usually takes about 5 minutes), you’ll get your results immediately, including:
- Your personal Earth Overshoot Day
- How many Earths we would need if everyone on the planet lived like you
- Your footprint by consumption category
- Your total ecological footprint
- Your carbon footprint
What is Earth Overshoot Day?
Earth Overshoot Day is the day each year on which we have used up as many resources as the Earth can sustainably provide for that year.
The earlier in the year Earth Overshoot Day falls, the more rapidly we are using resources the earth cannot replenish.
Just 50 years ago, Earth Overshoot Day fell on December 29, 1970. That means that in 1970 the Earth could sustainably provide nearly all of the resources we needed.
Since then, Earth Overshoot Day has steadily regressed. In 2019, it fell on July 29. In 2020, Earth Overshoot Day did push back slightly to August 22, comparable to where it was 15 years prior. However, this was not a moment to celebrate.
Remember when Ivanka Trump tweeted that our greenhouse gas emissions fell 9.2% in 2020? She technically wasn’t wrong, but she failed to take into consideration that these emissions fell so drastically because of a global pandemic which led to lockdowns and millions of lives forever impacted.
The goal of calculating Earth Overshoot Day and understanding our impacts is to actively make changes - in our personal lives, in our communities, in our economies. COVID-19 may have caused a global decline in emissions, but it was not intentional.
So, what’s Krystina’s ecological footprint?
Well, my friend, my Personal Earth Overshoot Day is May 12.
And if everyone on the planet lived like me, we would need 2.8 Earths to sustain us.
My greatest categories are Shelter and Mobility, with Food not far behind.
Shelter...I can’t do much more about this. I live in an apartment where I have no control over the heat, and the insulation sucks. I love my apartment, but when it comes to efficiency, it could be doing much better. The good news is, Tacoma’s electricity is nearly all renewable (although dams aren’t great, but that’s a topic for another day).
My Mobility budget is mostly from deliveries; I don’t leave my apartment much outside of those. The good news here is that we (A Drop in the Ocean) offset all of our mileage each year, plus our 10 trees planted with each purchase and Shopify’s carbon offsets means that these emissions are nearly triple-offset. It’s not a perfect solution by any means, but it’s the solution for now.
And Food...I’m working on that. I’m making a conscious effort this year to eat more meatless meals, eat out less, and hopefully in the summer I’ll be able to make it to more farmer’s markets to increase my local food consumption, too.
When I last did this exercise in 2019, my Personal Earth Overshoot Day was June 5. I’ve lost nearly a month! My goal for this year is to see if I can get this date to my birthday, June 22. Stay tuned for 2022!
My Challenge to You, Friend
In honor of the new year, I challenge you to calculate your own ecological footprint. It takes less than 10 minutes, and the results may surprise you.
Then, I want you to screenshot your results, and share them over in the EcoWarrior Pod Facebook group, with any reactions you had. Were you surprised? Were the results about what you expected? How do you feel about your results?
Sit with your results, share them with us, and let’s continue working together for a sustainable future for all living things 💙