Permaculture . . . ecological footprint

“We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. The icon of the whole earth is the largest scale example we have of a self-regulating ‘organism’ which is subject to feedback controls, like global warming. The proverb “the sins of the fathers are visited unto the children of the seventh generation” reminds us that negative feedback is often slow to emerge.” David Holmgren, Permaculture Principle 4 – Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

ecological footprints on the beach
Shadows and footprints in the sand… ephemeral, unlike our ecological footprints

Each day when I sit at my desk I look at a photo taken in 2007 of our footprints on a -other than us- deserted beach north of Broome… which in this climate change aware era leads me to consider other kinds of footprints.

WWF defines ecological footprint as “the impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated” and offers a simple Global Footprint Network Calculator which helps people examine their lives in relation to the resources they use, and obtain feedback. It doesn’t paint the entire picture but the exercise enlightening.

The questions below are courtesy of the Global Footprint Network. Ecological footprint is one of the few calculators where the lower the score the better off we all are in the long run. I never like to take a quiz alone, I like to see other people’s answers so I’ve ticked mine below.

How often do you eat animal-based products? (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy)
Never – vegan
Infrequently – vegetarian – eggs/dairy, no meat
Occasionally – really like veges – occasional meat, eggs/dairy
Often – balanced meat/veges, meat a few times a week, eggs/dairy almost daily 
Very often – meat daily

How much of the food you eat is unprocessed, unpackaged or locally grown?
How much of your diet is fresh unpackaged foods? 1% – 50% – 100%
How much of your diet is locally grown or produced? 1% – 50% – 100%

Which housing type best describes your home?
House, no running water
House, running water
Flat/unit building
Duplex/townhouse or building with 2 to 4 housing units

What material is your house constructed with?

How many people live in your household? 1, 2 to 10+

What is the size of your home?
Tiny – 5 sqm
Medium – 130 sqm
Large – 148 sqm
Huge – 468 to 1394 sqm

Do you have electricity in your home? Yes or No

How energy efficient is your home?
Very inefficient – poor insulation, low LED lamps, heating/cooling systems used often
Below average – inefficient lighting, standard appliances
Average – modern appliances, climate controls
Above average – well insulated, efficient lighting and appliances, careful use
Efficiency-centred design – passive heating/cooling, advanced temperature control and ventilation, low electricity use

What percentage of your home’s electricity comes from renewable sources? (either directly or through purchased green power) Low 0% – Medium 50% – High 100%.

Compared to your neighbours how much rubbish do you generate?
Much less – About the same – Much more.
Options -below- that help you calculate this relate to how much you purchase.

What comes closest to your monthly new clothing, footwear and/or sporting purchases
Minimal to none
Not much – underwear and socks
Average – shirts, underwear and socks
Above average – shoes, pants, shirts, underwear and socks
A lot – several new outfits and shoes every month

How often do you purchase new:
Household appliances:
Never, rarely
Infrequently – I only replace broken appliances when needed
Occasionally – I sometimes replace out-of-date models with new appliances
Often – I replace most of my appliances with the latest models
Very often – I always have the latest and greatest appliances

Electronic gadgets:
Never, rarely
Infrequently – I generally only replace broken TVs, computers
Occasionally – I replace out-of-date models and occasionally buy a new gadget
Often – I own many of the newest gadgets on the market
Very often – I always have the latest and greatest gadgets

Books, magazines and newspapers:
Never, rarely
Infrequently – I read most of the news online and borrow many of the books and magazines I read
Occasionally – I read some news online and subscribe to a couple of magazines or newspapers
Often – I often get a newspaper and buy magazine or books every week or two
Very often – I get a daily newspaper and buy books or magazines several times a week

What comes closest to your annual new household furnishings purchase?
Minimal to none
Not much – I haven’t decorated in years, maybe just some new towels and sheets
Average – new bedding, and a lamp or table
Above average – a couch or new bedroom set
A lot – I completely refurnished my living room

How much do you recycle:
Little to none – Some – Half – Most – All
Little to none – Some – Half – Most – All

How far do you travel by car or motorcycle (as a driver or passenger) each week?
Zero km  – Somewhere in between – Very far: up to 800 kms

What is the average fuel economy of the vehicle you use most often?
Efficient or electric 2 litres/100 km – Somewhere in between – Inefficient 24 litres/100 km

When you travel by car, how often do you carpool?
Never – Infrequently – Occasionally – Often – Always

How far do you travel on public transportation (bus or train) every week?
0 km to not far – Somewhere in between – Very far: up to 800 km

How many hours do you fly each year?
0 hours – Somewhere in between – Many: up to 200 hours.

ecological footprint
A snapshot of my ecological footprint: I need 1 earth to support who, what, how and where I am today. Tomorrow, next week-month-year it may be more, or less… a useful  tool for permaculture principle #4 – apply self-regulation and accept feedback, on regular basis.

There are no right or wrong answers. Some criteria are difficult to change: the type of house we live in; where we live; how much and what transportation we use; what is necessary, affordable or available; and other things dependent on our particular circumstances.

Also, there are societal factors that as individuals we have little or no control over. The Global Footprint Network FAQs advise “our Footprint includes activities in the Services category that are not considered personal, but societal. These areas include (but are not limited to) health care, entertainment, restaurants, real estate, legal services, government, and the military. These services are not variable in the calculator: Everyone taking the quiz has a portion of their nation’s services footprint allocated to them.”

I can see where my habits and choices have changed over the years. Once upon a time my footprint was far higher. For me, and many others there is a natural evolution of growing awareness, motivation and ability to make positive changes within our means.

For us, one circumstance that has contributed to decreasing of our household ecological footprint is our treechange from city to rural life, and as a result the downshifting of our finances and lifestyle to a less-is-more life.

“Live simply so that others may simply live.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Your thoughts? Comments welcome.

Between now and July 2020 I’m studying Certificate IV Permaculture via Tafe NSW and the National Environment Centre flexible online learning. Studying online, I discovered, involves a lot of writing. This year of study, I think, might lend itself to some blog posts… follow along if you are interested in learning what I learn during my permaculture journey.

5 thoughts on “Permaculture . . . ecological footprint

  1. Some of the discussions at the Grainz Fest I have just came back from were so inspiring, informative and amazingly scary. So much needs to be done to develop strong regional economies and supporting small producers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A wonderful description of the process of creating change… inspiring, informative and amazingly scary. Community is an asset that has been devalued by the Bigs of the modern world but it is our lifeline in tough times.


  2. Very interesting: it took doing this quiz to realise how much my purchasing (or otherwise) habits have changed. I used to buy a handful of new books without thinking about it, and if I found a pair of shoes I liked and which fit, I’d buy a couple of pairs. We don’t buy gadgets, appliances or clothes unless we’re replacing items which no longer work or have worn out, we live in a much smaller and more energy efficient house, and I now walk to the shops instead of getting in the car. I don’t suppose we’ll ever achieve your level of self-sufficiency and light ecological footprint, but we’re definitely doing better than we were.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had the same experience… I now can’t believe the amount of stuff I once thought was ok to buy. In the past I accumulated enough to keep me going for the rest of my life… my house contents is testimony to that. I never considered how much it was costing me or the planet in terms of resources. I don’t believe our ecological footprints are static; like life and our circumstances it varies from time to time but as a guide to undertstanding our impact it’s a useful tool to change thinking and behaviours.


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