Ecological footprinting is the approach to quantify the impact of land needed to produce what is consumed and integrate what is outputted. Given the total land area and biocapacity of Earth, the metric is a quick snapshot of sustainability: are we consuming more or less than the limit of what is sustainable? Cora Hallsworth, a sustainability consultant working with One Earth and Whistler Centre for Sustainability, shared that according to recent research, a typical Saanich resident impacts the Earth in such a way that we would require 3 planets’ worth of resources if everyone in the world were to live like a typical Saanich resident does.
Hallsworth has been working with the ecoCity footprint tool, a tool prototyped in 2006 to support communities interested in estimating their ecological footprint. The method entails a bottom-up inventorying of the food, buildings, consumables, waste, transport, and water that are being “metabolized” by the community. The outputs of the ecoCity tool include an ecological footprint, territorial greenhouse gas (GHG) emission inventory, and consumption-based greenhouse gas emission inventory (CBEI).
Hallsworth clarified that CBEI integrated upstream emissions of consumption whereas a territorial inventory refers to only those emissions produced within a region. The CBEI relies on life cycle assessment data to produce various factors that can be applied to the flows. These two metrics yield distinct results, and in particular, illuminate the difference between “consumer” cities and “producer” cities. Producer cities are those that are more directly implicated in manufacturing and industrial activities. From a territorial inventorying perspective, producer cities appear to have higher emissions. But when emissions are allocated based on where consumption occurs, there is more parity between producer and consumer cities.
The ecoCity tool produced several key findings for Saanich, including:
- “Food miles,” or the GHG emissions associated with the transport of food, is only 2% of the total CBEI associated with food. In other words, how and what is produced for food is more important than where it is produced. Almost 75% of the GHG emissions associated with food is specifically associated with animal proteins.
- Downstream management of consumables, e.g. disposal at landfills and recycling, targets a less significant impact of the emissions associated with consumables. In other words, it is more strategic to target reducing consumption of consumables (e.g. by thinking through how to combat planned obsolescence of appliances and technology) than to focus on how to recycle more effectively.
- The ecological footprint can be disaggregated to show a “sustainability gap” (i.e. the difference between what is currently being impacted vs. what is sustainable for “one planet living”), and it can also be disaggregated to show which land types (e.g. pasture land) are required
The results have been shared with “community integrators” that are working with local groups to come up with sustainability gap action plans. There is particular interest in “synergistic strategies” (e.g. reduce consumption of meat and dairy) that positively impact sustainability through several material and energy flows.