Regional ecological footprints within the South West

A few independent ecological footprint analyses have been carried out for cities and towns in the South West region, such as Plymouth, Bath and Bristol. The findings from these studies are briefly discussed below. However, as different methodologies have been used for the individual studies, it was not possible to integrate and compare the findings with Stepping Forward.

Plymouth's ecological footprint: Making the right choices

by Jackie Young, Plymouth City Council

Plymouth is the largest city on the coast, and is the regional capital of Devon and Cornwall. It has a population of 241,000 people (Plymouth City Council, 2004 & Visit Plymouth, 2004a).

Over the last year Plymouth's Environment & Sustainability Partnership, supported by the Environment Agency and the City Council, have been researching the City's ecological footprint.

There were a number of reasons for adopting the ecological footprint. Initially, the research was suggested as a means of reviewing Plymouth's State of the Environment Report (Plymouth City Council, 1996). An ecological footprint was seen as an innovative way to assess Plymouth's environmental assets. It was felt that it was a suitably scientific way of explaining the importance of sustainable resource management to decision makers who were more likely to take reportable evidence seriously.

It was also felt that it would be something that could be used with the general public. The press release, Just Bananas, for example, explains the global hectares needed to support Plymouth's love of bananas. By equating the ecological footprint to an area twice the size of Central Park, it was possible to give the local people some idea of the impact they have on the planet in a very simple way.

However, as research progressed, it became clear that, as well as providing a possible means of assessing local resource use, the process could also be adopted to support the monitoring of Plymouth's sustainability indicators. This, in turn, will assist with the contribution towards Plymouth's City Strategy (Plymouth City Council, 2004), and in explaining renewed commitments to sustainable development in 2005 and beyond.

Some difficulties were found in trying to access data. As a result a partial footprint was calculated, which reflects the average ecological footprint for a western city of the size and population of Plymouth. Even so, as Phase 1 is completed, funding is being sought to continue the research and to expand the use of ecological footprinting in three areas: waste, food and tourism. It is hoped to base Phase 2 of the report on a more intense analysis, using locally derived figures, thereby improving the understanding of the City's environmental impact.

Plymouth's Ecofootprint: A First Step was published in December 2004, by the Plymouth Environment & Sustainability Partnership. Copies are available from Plymouth City Council on 01752 304220. The report is also available for download from

A footprint analysis of the city of Bath

adapted from a paper by Mark Doughty and Geoffrey Hammond

The World Heritage city of Bath is situated in the unitary local authority of Bath and North East Somerset, between the Mendip Hills and the Cotswolds. In 2000, it had an estimated population of 85,000. Tourism remains a major industry, and a large proportion of the city's income and employment comes from this sector.

The ecological footprint analysis of the city of Bath, was carried out and reported in Sustainability and the Built Environment at and Beyond the City Scale (Doughty & Hammond, 2004). The analysis was based on Wackernagel's (1998) footprint analysis of Santiago de Chile, and adapted to reflect the novel features, as well as the particular resource and waste streams, of Bath and its neighbouring bioregion. The aim of the ecological footprint was to make a rough estimate of the per person footprint for educational purposes in a relatively short period of time and at moderate cost. Figure 7 illustrates the ecological footprint for Bath.

Figure 7
Illustrative ecological footprint of Bath, by component

fig 7

Note: these components are not compatible with those used in the Stepping Forward study.

In terms of area, the largest contribution to the overall environmental impact is due to 'fossil energy', followed by 'pasture' and then 'forest'. The other components (built up area and sea) are significantly smaller (note that these components are not compatible with those used inStepping Forward).

The per person ecological footprint was found to be greater than that of the surrounding bioregion, and indeed of the wider geographic area. The ecological footprint of the city is nearly 20 times larger than that of the corresponding land area.

The ecological footprint of the city suggests that sustainability assessment and planning will need to extend out to the regional level or beyond.

Bristol's ecological footprint

Adapted from Bristol City Council's Quality of Life Report 2003

Bristol is the regional capital of the South West region of England. In terms of GDP it is the second strongest economy outside London, and has a population of 380,615 people (Bristol City Council, 2004 and ONS, 2004).

Bristol's first ecological footprint study was published by the Bristol City Council in Indicators of Quality of Life in Bristol 2003. The ecological footprint was derived using a tool produced by Best Foot Forward as part of the European Common Indicators project (see Appendix 1). Most of the data used in the Bristol study was derived from national averages, but where local information was available, adjustments were made. Figure 8 illustrates Bristol's ecological footprint in 2003.

Figure 8
Ecological footprint of a Bristol resident, by component

fig 8

Note: these components are compatible with those used in the Stepping Forward study.

Bristol's ecological footprint is 191 times the size of the city. If everyone on the earth had the same lifestyle and used the same quantity of resources as the residents of Bristol, we would need three Earths to sustain us.