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On Monday I discussed my ecological footprint as it stands from my current lifestyle in Seattle. However, I first learned about the ecological foot print in high school and have taken the same quiz a number of times since then. Unfortunately, I do not have my results from high school but I can compare to my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. My junior year is interesting because it considers two lifestyles, that of my home life and that of my life in Denmark. Let’s look at the results.

Over the years the number of Earths required to support my lifestyle if every person lived as I do have fluctuated:

  • Spring, 2010, College: 6.59 Earths
  • Spring 2011, College: 6.35 Earths
  • Fall 2011, Home: 5.89 Earths
  • Fall 2011, Denmark: 2.72 Earths
  • Fall 2013, Seattle: 2.76 Earths

Clearly, college has impacted my footprint by making me more aware of the impact of my lifestyle. Equally important though is accessibility: Denmark and Seattle make it very easy to access resources that make a more sustainable lifestyle: public transit, short travel distances (walk-able and ride-able), high density/efficiency housing, access to affordable, local, and sustainable food sources. When it comes down to it there is simply no way I could ever get my footprint down to Seattle levels if I lived at home. Visiting a friend by bike would take hours and the bus is not much better. Where you live does make a huge difference in how sustainable you can be.

Comparing Spring 2011 and Fall 2013 (I saved more specific data for these quiz results) shows dramatic differences in categories. Unfortunately I have limited data availability from years ago, so I can only give general comparisons:

  • My carbon footprint shrank from 30% of my footprint to just above 7%. This brought me from about half the national average to almost a tenth the average. This is almost entirely attributable to cuts in vehicle travel, down to about 500 miles always with friends from 8,000 miles sometimes with friends. Not traveling back and forth to school and using public transit/carpooling to visit friends makes a huge difference, even if I added more air travel (flying home for the holidays).
  • My food footprint actually increased from just under 59% of my footprint to just over 61%. Looks like no improvement, right? Wrong. In 2011 my footprint was 144% the national average, now it is on par with the average American. Cutting out meat goes a long way! Now I just need to work on more local and sustainable options.
  • My housing footprint really had a negligible change. Living in a large apartment complex (or dorm) keeps footprints low by pooling resources, limiting land use, increasing energy efficiency. The list continues.
  • My goods and services footprint increased quite a bit since 2011, jumping from about 2% of my footprint up to almost a third. Dorms and apartments are both pretty sustainable, but living in the real world means i have to provide my own things! Needing more household items increases my expense on goods and services, and moving across the country with only a duffel bag and backpack don’t exactly make it easy to use things I already had.

Overall, my footprint has shrunk dramatically. The is primarily for two reasons: less travel in private vehicles and more attention focused on a sustainable diet. As my results show, changing your footprint is not always easy. I was only able to dramatically reduce my carbon footprint because I moved to the city. On the other hand, altering my diet was a conscious decision that has lessened my environmental impact and fattened my wallet at the same time.

Readers, I challenge you to investigate your environmental impact. Take a quiz, do some reading, and consider how your lifestyle affects the planet. Then change it, for the good of the planet, for your wallet, and for your health. You don’t have to give up everything – small changes can go a long way. You may even discover that simple changes will begin to improve your quality of life – walking to the store will save carbon but it will also make you healthier and give you an opportunity to de-stress and ponder!

Some resources:

Global Footprint Network

Ecological Footprint – Center for Sustainable Economy

World Centric: Eco-Footprint

Ecological Footprints and Carrying Capacity: Measuring our Impact – University of Colorado at Boulder.