By Tayla Smith
In my previous story, I explained what your ecological footprint is and the environmental impact your lifestyle behaviours may have on the planet. What we eat, how we travel, the size of our homes and our waste and recycling practices all impact the supply and demand of the world’s resources.
Currently, it takes 1.5 years to regenerate the resources we use in a single year. Pretty much, right now we are using more resources than can be physically regenerated. What’s great about calculating your ecological footprint is that the results will show you exactly how your lifestyle behaviours are contributing to carbon emissions and resource use and what areas you may need to improve in order to reduce your footprint.
Probably one of the hardest yet easiest behaviours we can change is the way we eat. Think locally grown, unprocessed and unpackaged foods. Local farmers markets and bulk food stores will be your new best friend! Unbeknown to a lot of people, packaged and highly processed foods as well as animal products are all resource-intensive and severely impact the environment.
If you eat a lot of these sorts of foods, you can expect your ecological footprint to be high. Productive land, grazing land, water and energy resources, production and manufacturing, and transportation all come into play when measuring your ecological footprint in regard to what you eat. Buying fresh local produce and unpackaged foods you will reduce your carbon emissions and the resources used to produce that food. The transportation from farm to fork will be less, the manufacturing of unnecessary packaging will be eliminated and you will more than likely produce less food waste.
So here are some tips to reduce your food footprint:
1. Reduce your animal consumption – Start off simple with ‘Meat Free Mondays’ or swap out dairy products for alternative options such as nut milks.
2. Buy local – start shopping at your local farmer's markets, I actually find this a cheaper option than buying produce from major supermarkets.
3. Buy unpackaged foods – the unnecessary packaging of food is not only resource-intensive to produce, but also wasteful. Always choose recyclable options or shop at a bulk food store where you can bring your own glass containers or use the recyclable paper bags supplied.
4. Avoid processed foods – Not only do processed foods require a lot of resources during production and transport, they’re generally not the healthiest options either.
5. Grow your own – you straight away eliminate transport and packaging.
6. Meal plan – plan your weekly meals and buy only what you need, this will eliminate food waste.
It’s a win-win situation when changing your eating habits. Not only will you be reducing your ecological footprint and waste, but also be eating quite healthy. Your body and the planet will thank you.
In Australia, transport is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, with cars being the major source of the problem. The emissions of fuels used by cars, trucks, public transport and aeroplanes are what is being measured when you calculate your ecological footprint. If you drive a car and use minimal public transport, your carbon emissions will be higher than if you take public transport or even walk. If you take a bus, you are then sharing the carbon emissions from the 1 bus with 20 or so other people and therefore, you as an individual are emitting much less greenhouse gas than if you drove a car.
Tips to improve your transport emissions:
7. Walk or Ride – If you can walk or ride your bike to your destination, do it! Zero carbon emissions and a little bit of exercise, win-win.
8. Public transport – if you live in a major city in Australia, you probably have a great public transport system that can get you from A to B. If you can, use public transport whenever or wherever you can. It will have a huge impact on your ecological footprint as you will now be sharing the carbon emissions with several other people.
9. Car pool – Carpooling, the next best option. If your work colleagues or university peers live near you or your route of travel, start car-pooling.
Housing can be complicated, we can’t exactly knock down our homes and rebuild them to be eco-friendly. However, we can make some changes so they can be more sustainable. In saying that, the type of house you live in does come into consideration when measuring your ecological footprint. A bigger house will require more energy use than a smaller one.
However, if you live with roommates you can share that energy use. If you live in an apartment block with no balcony/outdoor area you may need to use a clothes dryer but if you live in a house with a backyard you have the option to hang out your clothes. However, electricity is, in most cases, the highest emitter of carbon.
Tips on how to make your home more sustainable:
10. Energy efficient – are your appliances' energy efficient? Are your light bulbs energy saving? Do you have an energy efficient shower head? These are all changes that can be made to lower your carbon emissions (To note: if your appliances are not energy efficient but are working fine, don’t feel like you need throw them away for new appliances. Simply look into the energy ratings when purchasing new appliances).
11. Switch off when not in use – lights, fans, televisions etc. If they’re not in use, switch them off. You should also be switching these appliances off at the power point.
12. Unnecessary appliances –Be more mindful when using appliances such as dryers and air conditioners and if you could do without.
13. Shorter showers – reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower. Also, don’t forget to turn the tap off when brushing your teeth.
14. Waste less – Whatever you are putting in your garbage bin is going straight to landfill. Recycle and don’t throw out anything that can be used secondhand. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that Governments have 12 years to act on climate change. On an individual level, reducing your ecological footprint by taking on board the above tips would be a good place to start.
Tayla has a passion for researching and writing about our overall health, wellbeing and the environment. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion, Tayla has focused on becoming a freelance writer. Contact her via email, website and social media coming soon.