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Personal Lifestyles, Personal Footprints

The aim of Stepping Forward has been to identify the impact of the whole population of the South West, and to present it as an indicator of sustainability - an average footprint per person for the South West region - 5.56 gha. Looking at a more detailed level, however, the population is made up of individuals with many different lifestyles and activities, all impacting on the environment to different degrees.

To cast light on some personal lifestyles in the region, several volunteers living in the South West calculated their own ecological footprints using Personal Stepwise™. Although the group of volunteers is in no way intended to be representative of the South West, the findings provide an illustration of how individuals' everyday activities and decisions impact on the environment - they also highlight areas for improvement.

So how did our volunteers fare? Their personal ecological footprints ranged from 2.72 gha to 6.16 gha, with an average of 3.91 gha, 30% lower than the average South West resident. Their responses highlight some important issues for people in the South West. For example, decisions about car use are driven by the availability of public transport and the need to travel to and for work. Food, too, was highlighted, with several people mentioning locally produced animal products. As is seen in the section on food, a slightly higher consumption of animal products raised the South West food footprint above the national average.

Combining low values from several volunteers, it is possible to create a composite footprint which almost achieves earthshare. Although none of the volunteers has a one planet lifestyle, several of them have at least one footprint component at a near-sustainable level. This suggests that in principle a sustainable lifestyle is achievable, even in the UK (see Figures 5 & 6).

All of these issues reflect the desires and concerns of the volunteers, and show the complexity of decisions we make everyday – balancing our quality of life with our ecological footprints.

Oliver

oliver

3 in household.

Oliver lives in a rural village in Devon and works in Plymouth.

At 6.16 gha, Oliver's ecological footprint was 11% higher than the average South West resident. He had the highest food footprint of the volunteers, due to the high proportion of animal-based foods in his diet. He had the lowest energy footprint of the volunteers, and can attribute this to using renewable electricity at home.

If there is a change Oliver would like to make to his lifestyle to reduce his ecological footprint, it would be to reduce the amount of animal-based food consumed and where feasible reduce car mileage - although this is difficult in a rural area. Improved fuel efficiency would also help to reduce his transport footprint.

Nick

nick

1 in household.

Nick lives and works in Taunton, Somerset.

At 5.71 gha, Nick's ecological footprint was 2.5% higher than the average South West resident. He had the highest transport footprint, which he attributes to flying abroad regularly and using a car for business purposes. Of all the volunteers, Nick had the lowest food ecological footprint. He puts this down to eating locally grown organic food and few processed foods.

If there is one change Nick would like to make to his lifestyle to reduce his ecological footprint, it would be to reduce the number of flights he takes abroad (or learn to teleport!).

Marie-Lise

marie lise

4 in household

Marie-Lise lives in Plymouth, Devon. She is mother to two young daughters, with another child on the way, and is married to Roy (see below).

At 2.78 gha, Marie-Lise's ecological footprint was half the South West average. Marie-Lise had the lowest personal transport footprint of all volunteers, reduced by not commuting to work and travelling little by bus/coach and car. Marie-Lise and Roy had the second lowest materials and waste footprint, and attribute this to a deliberately non-consumerist ethic. They also compost organic household waste for use in the garden.

Roy

roy

4 in household

Roy lives in Plymouth, Devon. He is a lecturer in London, and also works as an environmental consultant. He is married to Marie-Lise, whose footprint results are reported above.

At 3.37 gha, Roy's ecological footprint is 39% lower than the average South West resident. Food was his highest area of impact, though still only 71% of the South West average. His transport ecological footprint was significantly higher than the average South West resident, due to his weekly commute to work in London.

If there is one change Roy would like to make to his lifestyle to reduce his ecological footprint, it would be to reduce his work hours so he can dedicate more space and time to growing fruit and vegetables in the garden.

Bill

bill

3 in household

Bill lives in an intentional community near Looe, in Cornwall. He is a self-employed ecological design consultant, and permaculture farmer. Currently, he spends about 3 days a week at client premises in Plymouth.

At 2.72 gha, Bill's ecological footprint was 51% lower than the average South West resident. As with a number of our other volunteers, food was his highest area of impact, although it is still only 71% of the regional average. He had the lowest materials and waste footprint, and attributes this to a conscious choice to limit the consumption of products, and to consider the origin of products and their packaging. Some products are also shared amongst community residents.

If there is one change Bill would like to make to his lifestyle to reduce his ecological footprint, it would be to operate his business with less need to travel by car to clients.

Wendy

wendy

1 in household

Wendy lives and works as an editor in Plymouth, Devon.

At 3.33 gha, Wendy's ecological footprint was 40% lower than the average South West resident. Energy use was her highest area of impact. She attributes this to living on her own in a three bedroom house. A conscious decision to find a job in walking distance from home has meant that her lowest area of impact was personal transport.

If there are changes Wendy would like to make to her lifestyle to reduce her ecological footprint, it would be to share her house and eat more locally produced food.

Klaudia

klaudia

2 in household

Klaudia lives on the edge of a small town in Cornwall. She is an environmental business practitioner for an environmental charity based in Plymouth. She also occasionally works in Hampshire.

At 3.31 gha, Klaudia's ecological footprint was 40% lower than the average South West resident. Personal transport was her highest area of impact. She puts this down to commuting to work, business travel and the school run. She attributes her low energy footprint to a house that is empty a lot of the time, gas central heating on a timer in the cold season and only on when needed. Klaudia switches things off at the plug instead of leaving them on stand-by when they are not in use, and uses energy saving bulbs where possible. She also tries not to indulge in keeping up with the latest electronic equipment.

If there is one change Klaudia would like to make to her lifestyle to reduce her ecological footprint, it would be to r educe her travel impact, but due to the need for travel and a lack of flexible and regular public transport where she lives, it might have to mean her next car will need to be more 'environmentally friendly'.

In comparison...

Figure 5 shows all the volunteers' ecological footprints, by component. There are some significant differences between their results. This illustrates the uniqueness of each individual's lifestyle and activities, so approaches to reducing their ecological footprints would need to be equally diverse.

Figure 5
Personal ecological footprints of seven South West residents, by component

fig 5

* Earthshare: the average amount of global resources available per person. See the Glossary.

Although none of the volunteers lives within the earthshare, a combination of their lower values for each component suggests that a one planet lifestyle could be possible, with an ecological footprint of 1.93 gha. Figure 6 suggests which components are most easily reduced by lifestyle choices.

Figure 6
A sustainable lifestyle ecological footprint produced by combining low volunteer component ecological footprints

fig 6