How to reduce the ecological footprint

Currently, human beings consume a greater amount of natural resources per year than the planet is capable of producing in that period of time, which entails an environmental impact that is reflected in the so-called “ecological footprint”. Every day more people worry about knowing their impact or ecological footprint and if they discover that it is elevated in a negative way, then they look for the best ways to reduce it.

What is the ecological footprint and why reduce it

The ecological footprint is the way to measure the dependence that human beings have on the Earth’s natural resources , by calculating the amount of services of nature that are necessary to maintain a certain lifestyle. In other words, the ecological footprint is an indicator of the impact that our activities and choices have in terms of the land required to sustain the use of natural resources associated with said activities. The unit of measurement used to calculate the ecological footprint is global hectares, which measure the amount of biologically productive land (with a productivity equal to the average on the planet) or of water necessary to maintain our lifestyle.

The ecological footprint can be measured for different human groups, be it a country, a city, an individual or the entire planet. It is a way of verifying the sustainability of this human group, that is, of whether or not their lifestyle and habits can be maintained over time indefinitely without compromising said capacity for future generations or not. Sustainability occurs when that lifestyle can be maintained over time, so that human demand and nature’s ability to meet that need coincide (or if the second is greater than the first). In the opposite case in which the ecological footprint exceeds the biocapacityof the system (that is, that human demand exceeds the supply of the Earth), these habits could not be maintained indefinitely in time.

How to reduce your ecological footprint – tips

Below is a series of measures on how to reduce the ecological footprint , taking into account different aspects, such as means of transport, housing, food and goods that we consume and the habits of energy use that we have.

Sustainable transport

Sustainable alternatives to the most polluting means of transport (motorcycles and cars) can be used, such as bicycles, public transport, skates or walking. Not driving polluting vehicles can reduce a person’s ecological footprint by up to 20%. In addition, the reduction in the use of private transport also has associated benefits such as the reduction of traffic jams and air pollution . At the same time, when making short-distance trips, it is preferable to use means such as the train or the bus to an airplane, since the latter emit water vapor and nitrous oxide at high altitudes, which entails an impact of between 2 and 4 times greater magnitude than the CO2 emission.

Sustainable housing

Among the easy-to-implement measures are the use of energy-saving light bulbs, the installation of insulating walls and ceilings and double-glazed windows, as well as the use of energy-efficient appliances (such as taps, toilets or shower heads), recycled furniture (second-hand or sustainably produced) and cleaning products that are not toxic to the environment or human health.

Consumption and energy use habits

Some simple actions to reduce the ecological footprint by improving consumption habits are:

  • Keeping the thermostat relatively low during the winter months and reducing the use of air conditioning in the hot season, as well as worrying about keeping the filters of the air conditioning clean so that it works as efficiently as possible, can help reduce the ecological footprint .
  • Unplug electrical devices when they are not in use, since in “stand by” they continue to consume energy.
  • Other actions aimed at reducing the ecological footprint can be to let the clothes dry naturally when possible, instead of using the dryer, as well as defrosting both the refrigerator and the freezer on a regular basis.
  • Regarding consumer habits, it is recommended to buy second-hand goods when possible, as well as to avoid single-use products. Related to this aspect, it is important to reduce or eliminate the consumption of single-use plastics (for example, bags, coffee glasses or straws or canes), using alternatives such as cloth or metal containers.
  • Reduce the level of consumption by trying to give a second life to objects that we already have, repair those that do not work instead of buying a new one and, in general, consume quality products that have long useful life expectancies.
  • It is also key to recycle cardboard, paper, plastic, glass waste …
  • Reduce water consumption by taking shorter and spaced showers and using the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full.

Sustainable food

Measures such as:

  • The purchase of local and seasonal food, which has not been transported long distances to reach us, thus reducing the carbon footprint associated with its production and marketing.
  • Buy organic food that guarantees the minimum possible use of insecticides and fertilizers in its production, which are polluting sources for the environment and living organisms.
  • If possible, it is also beneficial to reduce the negative impact on the planet to grow your own food , such as fruits and vegetables, thus reducing both the energy used and the waste associated with the production of food derived from its transport, its refrigeration and its packaging.
  • Reduction in meat consumption , since the meat industry is responsible for a greater amount of greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. It is estimated that the ecological footprint of vegetarians is half that of people who eat an omnivorous diet high in meat and fish.

To calculate the ecological footprint, several variables must be taken into account, which can complicate the process. It is for this reason that there are several pages on the Internet that offer this free service through an ecological footprint calculator at the individual level according to the habits of the person in question. To do this, it is based on the user’s responses to some questions in relation to:

  • Food: amount of products of animal origin that is normally consumed, if the food is processed, if it is of local origin or if it is packaged.
  • The type of home: how many people live together, the size of the home, what accommodations it has, whether it is energy-sustainable or its construction materials.
  • Other aspects: the percentage of electricity supply from renewable energy sources, the average amount of garbage it generates and transportation habits (number of weekly kilometers of transportation by motorcycle or car, number of annual hours of transportation by plane … ).

The answers to these questions are weighted, resulting in a numerical result of how many planets would be necessary to provide the natural resources to meet those needs if all people led the same lifestyle.

Another way of calculating the ecological footprint is by means of one of the numerous existing equations: one represented in the equation as EF by the acronym of the term in English ” Ecological Footprint “, at the national level, as the one proposed by Tiezzi and collaborators in their article scientist, which is:

EF = ΣTi / Yw x EQFi

In this calculation of the ecological footprint, Ti is the amount of each product i that is consumed in the country (measured in tons per year), Yw is the average annual production of each product i , and EQFi is the equivalence factor for each product i,this is a factor that serves to convert a certain area of ​​land into the global hectare units in which the ecological footprint is measured. These factors are not static, but vary by year and land use. There are, in turn, harvest factors that take into account the greater or lesser impacts that different types of land have in calculating the ecological footprint. The Tiezzi equation compares the quantity of goods consumed by a country in relation to the average world production of those goods.

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