Ecological Footprint Feed

How big is your ecological hand print?

1 native plants hyco seedlings 2

I often feel that too much emphasis is placed on decreasing our ecological footprint. Even if by some incredible miracle, the entire global population began living within the means of our planet overnight, nature would still be stuffed.

3 native plants hyco seedlings

Soils would still be contaminated, rivers would remain polluted, native animals would continue to be preyed on by exotic pests and disease, native plants would continue to be displaced by environmental weeds, threatened species would continue to be driven to extinction by the impacts of habitat fragmentation, CO2 would still be elevated, and climate change would still be happening. The earth we leave our children would still be poorer than the one we inherited.

3_planting native seedlings from hyco pots

Restoring and conserving nature requires us to do more than decrease our ecological footprint. That's why I love the concept of an ecological hand print.

4 learning to plant trees

What is an ecological hand print?

In contrast to your ecological footprint, which describes your negative impact on the planet, your ecological hand print represents your positive impact. Your ecological hand print is your contribution towards a sustainable future. It describes the good you have done for the world.

"The best one can get with a footprint is no impact at all.
The potential of a hand print is unlimited.”

John Biemer, 2009

I hope to have little eco footprints and a HUGE eco hand print, or at the very least have a hand print that is bigger than my footprint.

5 watering

How to increase your ecological hand print

There are many ways you can increase your ecological hand print. For example, you can inspire others to act, educate, help restore a patch of bushland, campaign for change, or join a local food movement. The options are endless.

6 learning bush regeneration_brush matting

I'm sure many of you already have a nice looking ecological handprint. Could it be bigger?

An activity to celebrate World Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day. It's a day for celebrating positive environmental action and provides the perfect opportunity to think about your ecological hand print.

7 learning bush regeneration_weed control

Simply sit for a few moments and think about what you are already doing to help the environment, and then give some thought to how you could do more.

8 kids learning how to plant trees

If you feel like putting pen to paper, try this activity suggested by John Biemer:

"Draw outlines of two hands on a sheet of paper. Near each finger of the left hand, write down one of your environmental accomplishments. It is okay to give yourself credit for signing consciousness-raising save-the-whales petitions. On the right hand write down five ways you want to create sustainability. Intentions can be powerful, especially when witnessed. Share your picture with a friend."

9 children ready and waiting to plant trees

I'll be celebrating World Environment Day today by co-ordinating a community tree planting day within an important patch of bushland. The photos accompanying this post were taken on Friday, when Little Eco and I had the pleasure of helping 85 school students plant trees. Talk about crazy!

10 stuck in the mud

Enjoy your World Environment Day :-)

I'm eating away my childs future!

I recently calculated my ecological footprint and found that my lifestyle is far from sustainable. So where am I going wrong? It seems the main contributor to my ecological footprint is the food I eat! This was a little surprising to me. I had imagined the greatest impact would come from things like transport, energy use and water consumption. But no, its food. Next in order of impact is goods (i.e 'stuff' like clothes and appliances), then services (gas, electricity and water), then shelter (house), and finally transportation.

Beef consumption is not so green

Back to food... One of the main reason the ecological impact of my food is so high, is that I consume animal products. Meat, particularly beef, has a very high environmental impact, using relatively large amounts of water and land to produce, and creating significant greenhouse pollution. Dairy also has a relatively high environmental impact because the high quality pastures and crops which feed dairy cattle require a lot of water.

Beyond the impact of animal products, I currently have only a simplistic understanding of how the food I eat impacts upon my ecological footprint. I understand that each stage in food production has an ecological impact. The growing, processing, packaging and transportation all have an impact. So, in simple terms, if I am going to decrease the ecological impact of the food I eat, I need to decrease the amount of animal products I consume and choose foods that are:
• farmed sustainably;
• processed as little as possible;
• packaged as little as possible and if packaged, using reusable or recyclable materials; and
• transported as little as possible.

Where do I start? To help me make decisions regarding the food I eat, I need to understand which foods I currently consume are OK and which ones I should reduce, skip or swap for something else. To help me in this task I will keep track of the food I eat over the next fortnight. So, another eco task for me...

Eco task 3: List all foods (including drinks) consumed over a fortnight, and as far as practical, make observations regarding how frequently it was eaten, where and how it was grown, processed, packaged, transported, and finally what was left over in terms of packaging after the food was consumed.

Do I have a little eco footprint?...Unfortunately NOT

…and far from it. I was rather surprised as I had thought we were living a ‘relatively’ green lifestyle. As mentioned in my first post we already do a number of ‘eco’ things around the home. We also try not to consume too much and also try to buy second hand. How wrong was I!!!! I think we need to try a little lot harder!

My footprint ranged from 3.8 global hectares to 4.2 global hectares depending upon which calculator I used. Far from the 1.8 global hectares it should be if we were to ensure the earth is not going to run out of resources. What this means is that I currently need approx. 4 hectares (soccer fields) of resources each year to sustain my lifestyle, but the earth can only realistically regenerate 1.8 hectares of that. That leaves 2.2 hectares of total destruction every year!. Although few realise, our lifestyles impact the earth and its health. The picture below depicts a site that only a few months prior supported a threatened ecological was cleared for a factory that produces goods for us.

Cleared threatened ecological community 470 x 470 

At least my footprint is less than the Australian average of 7.7 global hectares. Unfortunately this makes Australia the world's fifth worst resource guzzling nation. Australians are beaten only by the United Arab Emirates, United States, Kuwait and Denmark.

To live sustainably we need to live within the regenerative and absorptive capacity of the planet. When human demand on this capacity exceeds what is available we erode the health of the earth. Eroding the health of the earth not only causes a loss of biodiversity, it ultimately threatens the way we live our life...and even our life (e.g. widespread starvation). Already global biodiversity has decreased by 30% due to human pressures....In my home state of NSW alone, we have already lost 74 species to extinction since european settlement around 200 years ago.

If our current demands on the planet continue, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.


Why not calculate your ecological footprint? Visit this earlier post for a list of links to Ecological Footprint calculators.

My next eco task:

Eco task 2: Explore the lifestyle factors influencing the size of my ecological footprint.

My eco blogging journey begins

I intend to make 2009 the year my family switched to living a more sustainable life. I live in Newcastle on the east coast of Australia with my husband and 20 month old daughter (i'll call her "Little Eco"). We live in an average sized home on a smaller than average urban block only 4 km from the CBD.

I have always thought of myself as being pretty green, but recently have started to realise my life is no where near as environmentally friendly as I thought, or would like. We have done all the easy things to make our life greener. For example we:

  • use 100% accredited green power;
  • have a solar hot water system;
  • collect rainwater to flush the toilet, wash clothes and water the garden;
  • have a vege garden to grow 'some' of our vege needs;
  • use cloth nappies;
  • have a few chooks which lay the odd egg; and
  • put all the appropriate things in our council-collected recycling bin.

But to be honest, these small changes are just the fun and easy ones. We honestly have not done very well with those changes that require us to change the way we live our lives. For example - we often buy highly packaged food from our local supermarket chain just to save time. We drive our cars almost everywhere (again to save time). But this is going to change. I plan to blog our family's journey towards living a more sustainable life and decreasing our ecological footprint, particularly that of Little Eco. She is my main motivation for making these changes. It saddens me to think about what sort of earth we are leaving her. What will she think of us in 50 years time when she looks back at the way we lived our lives? At this stage of her life we have total control of how big her ecological footprint is. Is it fair to leave her with an ecological debt that may take her years of sustainable living and good deeds to pay off?

My greatest wish is that our journey will inspire others to live a more sustainable life so that my Little Eco can enjoy the quality of life with her children that we share with her.

Olivia feeding the chooks 470 x 470 311208