An ecological footprint can be defined as the amount of land required to support the current lifestyle of an individual or community. This isn’t just the land that grows our food but also includes the land needed to produce all the other goods, energy and water that we consume, and to absorb the waste that we produce. It is said that if everyone lived the lifestyle of the average American, we would need five planets to support us.
Trying to reduce our ecological footprint can be very complicated if we try to work out the full impact of everything we buy. Consider something as simple as a strawberry yoghurt. In addition to the production methods of each ingredient and the yoghurt itself, we also have to consider the production and disposal of the packaging and the transport of the yoghurt and its ingredients. American researchers have calculated that the total miles travelled by a strawberry yoghurt and all of its ingredients could be as much as 2216 miles.
However, there is a simpler way to approach the problem. If you think of your house, garden and car as a system that represents your lifestyle, then everything that enters or leaves this system has an environmental impact. So a way to reduce your ecological footprint would be to reduce the things entering or leaving your personal system, and also to simplify them so that it is easier to understand their impact. To give just one example, proprietary brands of cleaning products contain a mix of unfamiliar ingredients, so working out the environmental impact of, say, a bathroom cleaner can be very complex. But most household cleaning can be accomplished with a very small number of basic ingredients including vinegar, salt, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda. So instead of trying to understand the impact of your current cleaners, just switch to simpler materials. This principle can be applied in many ways including buying fresh local cooking ingredients instead of prepared meals.
Diss Community Farm has a responsibility for both sustainability and education, and the sharing of knowledge and experience within our community of members helps us to reduce our ecological footprint. We are currently exploring this through cooperative buying, initially operating informally by identifying local suppliers who share DCF’s values, together with companies from further afield who supply ethical products that can’t be obtained locally. By placing orders and arranging collection cooperatively we can increase our support of these suppliers and reduce our ecological footprint in the process.