Ecofootprints: My Wake Up Call

 We live on a beautiful planet.

So beautiful that it’s well worth taking care of. When I was in college, I took a number of environmental studies classes. For homework one night, we were each assigned to measure our ecofootprints to find out how many planets it would take to meet our needs if everyone on earth lived exactly like we did. I thought of myself as pretty green. I recycled, walked to school, shared housing and was frankly too broke to be a big consumer. My ecofootprint, circa 6 years ago? If everyone lived exactly as I did back then, we would need…

Over four earths.

I was crushed to realize I wasn’t living nearly as sustainably as I wanted to be. It’s something I’ve been working on ever since. I took the same quiz today to measure my eco-footprint and see if the changes my husband and I are making have made a difference. You can measure yours, too! Take the quiz here.

Some things I learned from today’s quiz:

  • My carbon footprint is 66.16 global acres, compared to the national average of 91.43. That means my footprint is still pretty big, even though I take the bus and walk almost every day. That’s because I’m still driving on several long trips every year, and taking the car to visit my in-laws, grocery shop, or do my research and clinical work over 200 miles away! I have an older model Honda Civic, and in spite of my efforts to use it less, this is one area where I could really do better.
  • Fact: Many of the steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprints are painless and simple. They can be as simple as turning the car off instead of letting it idle any time we have to wait, or taking the train instead of flying for shorter trips. Learn more here!
  • My food footprint is 7.84 global acres. The national average is 65.74. Going vegetarian and shopping locally when possible makes a big difference!
  • Fact:18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the consumption of animal products.
  • My housing footprint is 11.38 global acres. The national average is 31.58. Living in a  townhouse and minimizing water use with low flow toilets and showerheads makes a big difference here!
  • Fact: Green cleaning products reduce environmental damage and indoor air pollution, and protect your health! Easy changes to make: Use vinegar and warm water to mop, and use baking soda to scrub dishes and counters and toilets and bathtubs! Want more? Check out these recipes!
  • My goods and services footprint is 2.89 global acres. The national average is 57.66. This was the most striking difference – our decision to recycle whenever possible, to stop buying new stuff and shop mostly secondhand really reduced our household’s ecofootprint!
  • Fact: Planned obsolescence contributes to waste in a big, big way! Check out The Story of Stuff and watch a really wonderful 20 minute video on this topic! I also highly recommend The Story of Electronics.

The good news: My husband and I have made great strides toward reducing our ecofootprints, by making changes that have improved our quality of life and our well being, and I feel very inspired to keep working at it!

The bad news: If everyone made the same changes and lived exactly like we do, we would still need 2.8 earths to live on. Our total ecological footprint is still too big.

We’ve still got a long way to go, but at least we’re on our way! Anybody got any good ideas for steps I can take to reduce our ecofootprint a little bit more? What are ideas you’re putting into practice in your own lives to live lightly on the earth?

Find out your own footprint:

Ecological Footprint Quiz by Redefining Progress


3 thoughts on “Ecofootprints: My Wake Up Call

  1. I got 2.95 Earths. Driving is a factor, though at about 1-2000 miles a year I do this far below the national average. We do fly to NY to see family about once a year. As for food, to be a full vegetarian I’d have to eat much less locally than I do now, partly out of food allergies that put limits on my dairy, grain & legume intake. All the meat I buy is local: Hickory Nut Gap Farm or Hominy Valley–a small, sustainable farm in Candler (owned by the nicest family). At these prices we can afford very little meat–a few servings per week for each of us, on average. It is just enough. But I don’t know where to buy locally grown grains & legumes (which I mostly cannot tolerate anyway–soy is right out). Any rice paddies in WNC? The best non-animal protein source that I’ve found (health-wise) is quinoa, which comes from South America. How does one eat a truly local (all food grown within 100-200) miles vegetarian or vegan diet?

    • Kristin, I’m with you! So far as eating locally, I don’t strive for perfect – mostly local is a vast improvement over how we used to eat! And I still haven’t managed to give up driving or the occasional flight. The best guide to eating locally that I’ve found yet has been Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’ve just started reading another book about urban homesteading – I’ll try to remember to post a review when I’m finished!

  2. Yeah, I’m always striving to make changes for health & sustainability & never able to make it up to my own standards. : ) I was just thinking about how I feel better about my meat consumption than I do buying Bob’s Red Mill oats or Ancient Harvest Quinoa pasta. Can’t wait for the City Market to open in a few months, and I’ll be talking a veggie garden this year–wish me luck! I asked Charlie what he wanted to grow and he said, “Nothing. I don’t like vegetables.”

    I’ve been enjoying the homesteading movement, and here’s one of my favorite blogs:

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