How sustainable is the South West?

One of the benefits of using ecological footprinting as a metric is its ability to link the personal with the global and make the link between what we consume (the per person footprint) and the ecological limits of the planet (the average 'earthshare'). It enables an assessment of the sustainability of a given population.

The South West residents' ecological footprint for 2001 was 5.56 gha per person. If everyone on our planet consumed as much as the average South West resident, we would need 3 Earths to support our current lifestyles sustainably.

The average 'earthshare' is 1.9 gha (Chambers et al., 2000). To bring the South West residents to within the earthshare would require a reduction of 66% on their current ecological footprint.

Figure 2 shows the components of the South West resident's ecological footprint. 'Materials and waste' was the most significant component, 38% of the total, and food was the second largest at 29%.

Figure 2
Total ecological footprint for a South West resident, by component, in 2001

fig 2

Comparing the South West to other UK regions

Figure 3 compares a South West resident's ecological footprint to UK, Northern Ireland and Scotland averages. A South West resident has, on average, the highest direct energy ecological footprint. This is due to the large quantities of brown-grid electricity consumed in the region.

The environmental impacts associated with food consumption in the South West were also slightly higher than for other regions. This is because the average South West resident consumes 5% more food (698 kg per year, against the UK average of 668 kg), and this has a slightly higher animal content (40% against 38%).

The South West personal transport footprint is lower than the UK average; higher car use is counterbalanced by lower air travel.

Figure 3
Comparison of a South West resident's ecological footprint, with other UK regions, by component, in 2001

fig 3

CO2 emissions

For the South West in 2001,

  • 'Production' CO2 emissions were calculated as 26.6 million tonnes - 5.4 tonnes per person. Road transport was responsible for about 45% of the emissions to air.
  • 'Consumption' CO2 emissions were calculated as 56.6 million tonnes - 11.6 tonnes per person. (See Table 1).

The difference between production and consumption illustrates the reliance of the South West (and indeed the UK) on economic activity, with the associated CO2 emissions, occurring elsewhere.

Table 1
Consumption based CO2 emissions for the South West, in 2001 (kg of CO2 per capita)
Total 11,553
Nourishment 555
of which…  
plant 228
animal 327
Shelter 2,665
of which…  
Domestic electricity 1,338
Domestic natural gas & LPG 1,039
Domestic oil 161
Domestic coal 128
Renewables (excl. wood) 0
Other domestic 0
Mobility 1,815
of which…  
car 1,570
bus & coach 18
rail, tram, metro etc. 33
waterborne 56
air travel 126
motorbikes/scooters 12
Goods 4,442
of which…  
landfilled 4,141
recycled/composted/other 301
Services 954
Construction 1,122
Note: Nourishment relates only to agriculture and excludes CO2 emissions relating to food packaging, processing or distribution (which are included in 'goods').
Note: The calculations for goods assumes the embodied energy and associated life cycle emissions for each kg of municipal waste to be 9.7kgCO2 per kg (landfilled) and 3.9kgCO2 per kg (diverted waste). The former figure is based on national UK averages including net imported materials.
Note: Freight is included in 'Goods'.
Source: Best Foot Forward Regional Stepwise™ model