With the ecological footprints finally calculated (thanks for your patience), it’s become clear just how tough the competition is. Ames Street of Pāekakariki and Waimeha Lagoon of Waikanae Beach both have an average neighbourhood footprint of 1.66 Earths, while Reikorangi of Waikanae is starting out on 2.57 Earths. The New Zealand average is 2.12 Earths.
Using a quiz developed by the New Zealand Footprint Project, a collaboration between Otago Polytechnic and Victoria University of Wellington, participants answered a series of questions about key aspects of their lifestyle: food and drink, travel, consumer goods, pets, holidays, energy, and housing. The calculator then expressed each category in global hectares (gha).
A gha is a unit of the Earth’s ability to produce resources or absorb pollution. A person’s individual footprint in gha can be converted to Earths. That is, the number of planet Earths we would need if the entire world’s seven billion people lived in the same way as the person measuring his/her footprint.
The global average ecological footprint 1.6 Earths (2.7 gha), meaning humans are undermining the ability of the planet to support us. A ‘fair Earth share’ is, you guessed it, one Earth (1.7 gHa) – the number of planet Earths we actually have!
While individual footprints differ, a recent talk in Kāpiti by Professor Brenda Vale, a Greenest Neighbourhood judge and part of the New Zealand Footprint Project, highlighted some general themes between urban New Zealand lifestyles:
- Food was found to be the predominant driver of a household’s footprint. Use of commercial land for growing, on‐farm inputs and food processing made up the largest portion of the food footprint. Reducing consumption of dairy products and meat decrease a food footprint markedly.
- Holidays and pets were also large contributors to an individual’s footprint. The impact of holidays relates to the distance we travel, particularly by plane.
- Growing house sizes have increased our average housing footprint, despite homes possessing more ‘eco-friendly’ features.
- Due to the high amount of renewable energy that goes into producing New Zealand’s electricity, the impact of household energy was proportionally much less than found in similar footprint case studies in other countries.
- Consumer goods also have a large impact and it is steadily increasing. Between 1960 and 2006, production and use of consumer goods per person almost tripled.
Discussing ways in which we can address our impact, Professor Vale proposed a ‘ration card’ approach. This method avoids prescribing what we should and shouldn’t do, but asks us to make lifestyle choices in recognition of the fact that we can’t do everything if we hope to exist within the bounds of the Earth’s ability to support us and future generations.
As previous Greenest Streets found, many of these choices are not about lowering our standard of living, but discovering a richer life on our doorsteps as we come together to share tools, skills and resources, support each other, become more resilient and build community.
Participating Neighbourhoods have until March 2014 to reduce their average footprint, when they will be remeasured and compared for smallest final average footprint; greatest proportional reduction; and how the groups have come together as a community.