What is an Ecological Footprint?
Wackernagel and Rees describe the Ecological Footprint as “an accounting tool that enables us to estimate the resource consumption and waste assimilation requirements of a defined human population or economy in terms of a corresponding productive land area” (Wackernagel and Rees 1996). In more basic terms, the Ecological Footprint takes into account all of the resources (fuel, electricity, etc) used by people in the city and represents this in the amount of land necessary to create all of these resources (Calcott and Bull 2007). This includes not only the things that we consume but also the things that we throw away and send to landfills (Holden 2004). The Ecological Footprint is commonly measured in global hectares per city and for the sake of equal comparison between London and Limerick, I will be taking the per capita measure of each cities Footprint. The image below depicts the Ecological Footprint as an actual footprint. This highlights the different sectors of consumer use and what goes into a city’s or country’s Ecological Footprint.
London’s Ecological Footprint:
Starting off, London has an Ecological Footprint of 5.48 global hectares per capita (Calcott and Bull 2007). This means that each person living in London would need 5.48 hectares to sustain the energy demands they use now.
Limerick’s Ecological Footprint:
Limerick’s Ecological Footprint is 6.34 global hectares per capita (Walsh 2006). Which means that each person living in London would need 6.34 hectares to sustain the energy demands they use now. Limerick’s Footprint is 16% larger than that of London’s. This would not have been my initial thought. However, there are many factors that could cause this result and I will discuss a few below.
Why does Limerick have a bigger Footprint?
The difference between the Ecological Footprints of London and Limerick may come as a shock, but there are many factors that play into this common theme of larger cities having smaller Footprints per capita than smaller cities. The main factors that play into this being population density and accessible public transportation (Owen 2015; Holden 2004).
Image 2: (U.S. Energy Information Agency)
Population density plays a key role in limiting the Ecological Footprint of a city. By living in close proximities, within a city, energy consumption and water use are lowered (Owen 2015). This is due to the fact that people are living in smaller sized apartments in large apartment complexes than they would if they lived in a more sprawling urban area. Holden discusses how “people living in single-family houses have a significantly higher energy consumption as well as material housing consumption . . . the houses are generally larger in sparsely populated areas, which again influences consumption patterns significantly”(Holden 2004). As can be seen in the infographic above, from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, apartments that have more than five units, which would be commonly found in a densely populated urban environment, use a lot less energy than single-family houses, which would be found in sprawling urban environs. According to the Greater London Authority, flats consist of over half the living accommodations in London (Housing in London 2015). Whereas in Limerick, “95.2 percent of households lived in houses or bungalows while a further 4.4 percent lived in apartments” (Area Profile for County Limerick 2011). By living in flats, London is able to save large amounts of energy, thus this is one reason why they may have a smaller per capita Footprint.
Transportation is another area in which larger and more densely populated cities are able to excel. In Limerick, the census data shows that 69.3% of journeys to work were taken by car instead of public transportation in 2011 (Area Profile for County Limerick 2011) . Since the urban area is sprawling and less public transport is available, it makes sense that people would be more likely to own and drive cars. With each individual person driving and owning cars, there is a lot more fuel being used. Whereas, in areas as densely populated as London, owning and driving a car around would make a lot less sense, so more people would take public transit as the main means of transportation. This is why in London when commuting to work between boroughs only 22.6% of people drive or ride in cars, while others use forms of public transportation or walking, lowering the cities Economic Footprint (Commuting in London 2014).
Sustainable Urbanism and The Future:
Even though London has a smaller Ecological Footprint than that of Limerick, both of these cities are still almost double the global average of 2.6 global hectares per capita (Living Planet Report 2014). Given this, steps need to be taken in the future to limit Ecological Footprints of urban areas and things need to be done to develop new areas in more efficient and environmentally friendly ways. Rees discusses how the ideal sustainable urban includes “dense and concentrated housing design”, “relatively high degree of density in residential areas”, and “shortest possible distance to the town centre” (Rees 2001). By having what is thought of as a “compact city” there is the elimination of long commuting times and more energy efficient housing. Now, something like this is not possible to implement right away in already structured areas. But, while we continue to grow and expand as a population sustainable urbanism and our Ecological Footprints should be taken into account.
Map Your Own Ecological Footprint:
I also encourage you to look at your own Ecological Footprint and think of ways in which you can decrease your Footprint by doing simple things like Meatless Mondays or taking the train to work. You can take a short quiz at http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ that will help determine your Footprint by asking you questions about what you eat, how you commute, where you live, and how you consume! Small changes at a large scale can make a big difference.
Area Profile For County Limerick (2011). 1st ed. Limerick: Central Statistics Office. Web. 20. Nov. 2016.
Campaign for Free Public Transportation (2010). Image. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. http://www.freepublictransport.org.uk/
Calcott, Alan and Jamie Bull (2007). Ecological Footprint Of British City Residents. 1st ed. WWF. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.
Commuting In London (2014). 1st ed. Census Information Scheme: GLA Intelligence. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
“Footprint Basics” (2016).. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
Holden, Erling (2004). “Ecological Footprints and Sustainable Urban Form.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 91–109.
Housing In London (2015). 1st ed. London: Greater London Authority. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
“Living Planet Report 2014 Facts” (2014).. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Mayor of London (2011). “Data Downloads 2011 Census” London Datastore. Web. 19 Nov. 2016
Owen, David (2009). “The Greenest Place In The U.S. May Not Be Where You Think By David Owen: Yale Environment 360”. E360.. Web. 20 Nov. 2016
Rees, William E. (2001) “Global Change, Ecological Footprints, and Urban Sustainability. How Green Is the City?: Sustainability Assessment and the Management of Urban Environments, Edited by Dimitri Devuyst et al., Columbia University Press, pp. 339–364
U.S. Energy Information Agency (2013). Number Of Household And Site Energy Consumption. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Wackernagel, Mathis and William E Rees (1996). Our Ecological Footprint. 1st ed. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, Print.
Walsh, Conor et al. (2006) “The Application Of The Ecological Footprint In Two Irish Urban Areas: Limerick And Belfast”. Irish Geography 39.1: 1-21. Print