Before I started this blog, I did several tests to see how good or bad my ecological footprint actually is. Your ecological footprint, as described by the World WildLife Fund is “the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle“. I thought mine was pretty good. Because, you know, I separate plastic, all my electricity comes from renewable sources and I am Dutch, which means I cycle almost daily. So, pretty good right? Nope. The results showed me I was completely wrong.
The first time I took the test was in November 2017. My Personal Overshoot Day (the date by which I would have used as much from nature as Earth can renew in an entire year) would be April 13th, which ironically enough is my wedding day. “Hey honey, happy anniversary. By the way, from this day on I am in debt with the Earth. Cheers!”
If everyone would live like me, like I did in 2017, we would need a shocking 3.5 Earths according to the Global FootPrint Network. This is an international nonprofit organization that aims for a sustainable future where all people have the opportunity to thrive within the means of one planet. They created an awesome Footprint Calculator that takes into account the amount of meat and dairy you eat, the amount of locally produced, unpackaged food you buy, the energy efficiency of your house, your mode of transportation and many other factors. You can take the test here, it’s about five minutes of your time and it’s really fun and insightful. There are other tests, such at this one developed by the World Wildlife Fund and although all tests obviously differ a bit in what they measure, the general image you’ll get from your footprint is pretty much the same for each test.
The Earth Overshoot Day for Humanity in 2017 was August 2 (if you want to find out the Earth Overshoot Day for Humanity of this year, head over to this page). This unfortunately meant I was 3,5 months ahead of the global average. I could not have been more wrong about my footprint behavior, thinking I was on the right track!
Yes, I could try to look at the “bright side” that I was still below average compared to for example Americans (they needed a whopping 5.0 planets), but NO. It doesn’t matter so much to me to be below the average of others, it matters that my personal average is still too high.
The big question: How can I move my Personal Overshoot Day?
From the first of January of 2018, I started taking steps everyday to reduce my ecological footprint. That lowered my footprint in 2018 and 2019 from 3.5 Earths to 2.4 Earths. It made me happy to see that little changes in my lifestyle already can have a big impact! I saved 1.1 Earth, just by making some small adjustments. However, I am still not there yet. What’s going on?
What has the biggest impact on my ecological footprint?
The fun of the Global Footprint Calculator is that you can play around with the numbers. For example, if I would cut out the remaining meat and dairy, that would push my Personal Overshoot Day with 10 days. Although that would help, it still doesn’t make me live within the boundaries of the planet. Why?
My biggest footprint challenge is… flying. My hubbie is from Argentina, which means that we have all his family and a lot of friends on the other side of the ocean. It’s a 14-hour flight. That’s a loooot of carbon.
Currently, due to the pandemic, I don’t see it happening that I will take a plane in 2020. With that in mind, if I fill out the calculator, my Personal Overshoot Day takes an impressive jump to November 26th, and we would need 1.1 Earths if everyone lived like me.
Flying really is a pain-in-the-butt for the environment. In her book “Hidden impact” (only available in Dutch), industrial designer Babette Porcelijn calculates that to fly 5.200 kilometers by plane, you would need to plant 143 trees to compensate for the CO2 output.
To compensate a return flight Amsterdam – Buenos Aires I would need to plant 572 trees.
Just for me, so that would mean 1144 trees for me and Gabi.
This is why sometimes a journey towards zero impact can be so difficult. I can easily give up stuff, I wouldn’t mind becoming a vegetarian or a vegan, but to never see my Argentinean friends and family in law again (or my Dutch family and friends if we decide to live in Argentina)? That would be too radical for me. It is just something I cannot do. I guess 99,99% of the people can understand that. So, what’s left? There are several initiatives that offset your carbon footprint for a flight, such as planting bamboo. However, this still feels a bit as cheating and unsustainable.
I know a lower impact is not something that can be reached in one day. That would be like thinking you can lose 30 kilos overnight, or run a marathon from one day to another.
It takes time, practice, discipline. If you are trying to lower your impact as well, don’t give up if you don’t see results after one day, or if you feel like you don’t do enough. Take it one step at a time and you will see how things can really change!
I also know it’s something I cannot reach alone. The Global Footprint Network agrees with me. On their website, they motivate individuals to take action, but also call out to you to demand change and support from your government. Together we can do this!
I am curious what your footprint is. Take the test and let me know the results in the comments below, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!