Reducing Your Ecological Footprint

An ecological footprint measures humans' consumption of natural resources against the Earth’s ecological capacity (biocapacity) to regenerate them.

Autor*in Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 07.13.13

According to the Global Footprint Network, we currently consume more resources per year than our planet can produce in the same timeframe. Their calculations show that it takes the planet 18 months to regenerate everything that we use in a 12 month period. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day was August 2nd – meaning that by that date we had taken more from nature than our panet is able to renew in the whole year.

There are many simple things you can do to reduce your ecological footprint. Learn how to reduce your footprint in each consumption category – transportation, housing, food and goods. To discover your own biggest areas of resource consumption and compare your own footprint to others’, check out our roundup of the best ecological footprint calculators.

Use Cleaner Transportation

  • Don’t drive when there is an alternative! Walk, bike, or take public transport whenever possible. If you don’t own and drive a car on average you can reduce your total ecological footprint by as much as 20 per cent. Using it less will reduce your footprint, helps to avoid traffic jam and keeps your citys air cleaner. A 2011 study carried out by the European Cycling Federation compared carbon emissions from a bicycle (including manufacturing) to motorised vehicles and found that for every passenger kilometre travelled by bike, 21 grams of carbon were released as opposed to 271 grams for someone riding or driving in a car and 101 grams for people taking the bus.
  • If you need a car make it a small as possible one and reduce the mileage. Smaller, and mainly smaller-engined, cars are usually much more energy efficient than larger ones.
  • Check your car regularly. Have your vehicle serviced regularly to keep the emission control systems operating at peak efficiency. Check your car’s air filter monthly, and keep the tires adequately inflated to maximise gas mileage. If you sit idle for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine (except in traffic).
  • Avoid short airplane trips – take a bus or train instead. Flights cause a large and growing part of our collective footprint – it has two to four times the impact of CO2 emissions on climate change because it releases water vapour and nitrous oxide at high altitude. If you can’t avoid flying, make clearing donations to projects on climate protection. Or utilise the emission calculator on atmosfair to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions are caused by your flights. With your donation to atmosfair you enable them to run projects where these emissions will be saved.

Add Energy-Saving Features to Your Home

  • Install energy-saving lamps in your home – but be sure to dispose of old bulbs safely.
  • Make sure your walls and ceilings are insulated, and consider double-pane windows. Explore green design features for your building, like passive solar heating, a rainwater catchment or greywater recycling system, and recycled materials.
  • Choose energy efficient appliances, including low flow shower heads, faucets, and toilets.
  • Choose furnishings that are second-hand, recycled, or sustainably produced.
  • Use biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products – for your health and environment.

Cultivate Energy-Saving Habits

  • Keep the thermostat relatively low in winter and ease up on the air conditioning in summer. Keep your A/C filters clean to keep the A/C operating at peak efficiency. Take a look at our tips for keeping cool without A/C.
  • Unplug your electronics when not in use. To make it easier, use a power strip. Even when turned off, items like your television, computer, and cellphone charger still sip power.
  • Dry your clothes naturally whenever possible rather than using power-guzzling tumble dryers.
  • Defrost your refrigerator and freezer regularly.

Reduce your Foods and Goods Footprint

  • Shop at your local farmer’s market. Look for local, in-season foods that haven’t travelled long distances to reach you. Organic and other forms of low-input farming that use minimal or no pesticides and fertilisers – which are energy intensive in their manufacture – consume up to 40 per cent less energy, and support higher levels of wildlife on farms.
  • Choose foods with less packaging to reduce waste.
  • Plant a garden! Growing our own fruit and vegetables reduces all the energy and waste which normally goes into getting food from the field to our plates – such as transport, refrigeration and packaging. In your garden you can compost food waste as well. Garbage that is not contaminated with degradable (biological) waste can be more easily recycled and sorted.
  • Going meatless for just one meal a week can make a difference – more often is even better! The livestock industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions globally than the transport sector and the ecological footprint of vegetarians is estimated to be around half that of meat eaters.
  • Buy less! Try to get your things repaired – this supports local business and avoids waste. Replace items only when you really need to and try to buy quality products that will have a longer life-span.
  • Recycle all your paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic. Don’t forget electronics! Do an online search to find the recycling options in your area.

Try Out Easy Ways to Save Water

  • Take shorter, less frequent showers – this saves water and the energy necessary to heat it.
  • Run the dishwasher and the washing machine only when full.
  • Wash your car less often. Take it to a carwash; usually commercial carwashes use less water per wash than you would need at home.
  • Avoid hosing down or power-washing your deck, walkways, or driveway. Regularly look for and fix leaks.
  • Plant drought-tolerant plants in your garden and yard.

Find more water-saving tips here.

Purchase carbon offsets

Saving is advance is always better than paying afterwards, but for the carbon emissions you can’t eliminate, sometimes you have the option to purchase carbon offsets. Individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel. One example is Atmosfair, that uses an emissions calculator to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions are caused by individual flights and offers carbon offsets. 

Offsets are typically achieved through financial support of projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term. The most common type of project is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects. There is some debate around the efficacy of carbon offset projects, so feel free to read about it here and make up your own mind.

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