Environmental footprint defines the outcome our lifestyle choices have on the natural environment. And before we delve into the subject, we are going to focus here only on individual environmental footprint.
When we think about the environmental footprint, we need to take the whole production process into account:
- What materials are used when making the product? How are those materials grown, produced?
- Where is the finished product travelling from?
- How efficient/sustainable is the packaging?
- What will happen with the packaging and the product once its life cycle ends? (Can it be recycled, re-used, up-cycled, donated?)
If I buy avocados from California, the environmental footprint of that purchase will be larger than if my avocados came from Spain (I live in Europe). The Spanish avocados, in my case, will leave a smaller environmental footprint than the Californian ones because of the distance they have to travel.
Going further, if we only buy seasonal veggies and fruits, the environmental impact will be lesser than eating food out of season. After all, all those exotic fruits and veggies (including avocados) must travel long distances to get to consumers. Eating locally grown and seasonal foods are gaining momentum, and it has become easier to find local food.
Making preserves is also a good way of eating foods you love so much out of season, without impacting the environment. (Watch How to Make Polish Pickles?)
The size of the accommodation also matters enormously. The bigger the house, the larger the footprint it leaves behind. Apart from having a higher maintenance cost, big houses need more furnishing, more cleaning (using more cleaning products), and more fuel to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Also, the research shows that, in general, people tend to buy more of everything, when they have bigger houses.
The way we use transport has a vast environmental impact. If I were to use my car every time I go to a corner shop that is environmentally problematic, not sustainable, and not too healthy for my body. Walking, cycling, and using public transport are much kinder and more sustainable choices, also better for your pocket.
Buying new stuff, such as clothing, household equipment, electronics, which are mostly flown from factories overseas, will impact the environment in a more negative way than buying all of that second-hand, or fixing your clothes or broken equipment. Apart from considering the production process and the travelling, we also need to remember that many rare minerals go into making electronics. Often, mining those minerals is neither sustainable nor humanitarian, so not feeling the pressure to buy new electronics every time an update is available will make a difference to the natural environment. And will send a signal to the corporate world that you, the consumer, don’t support the linear economy model.
For instance, I order oils and ointments for my kids from Bristol (UK). All of the ingredients the maker uses are grown in her garden = locally produced. Even though she still needs to put her products inside a parcel and ship it to London, the whole process leaves a much smaller environmental footprint than if I was to buy the same type of product from a company that sources their products from, say, Asia or South America.
Since I got into sustainability and eco-minimalism, I started paying more attention to where the products I buy come from. I’m trying to buy local, European made products. However, it’s not always possible, and I get mega annoyed with myself when I find out that the sustainable swaps I’m using are produced in Asia and shipped all across the world to Europe, leaving a massive environmental footprint behind.
The same rules apply while ordering online. I try to buy several items at the same time, but often they arrive from different warehouses, and instead of one box, I end up with five. This creates not only extra waste but also pollution through transportation and inefficiency of the delivery system.
If you seriously think about turning your life around and becoming more sustainable, thinking about your environmental footprint is an integral part of the process. Always start small, and don’t overwhelm your system with too much change or information at once. Try to take actions that you know you can, always considering your living situation and affordability.
Buying 2nd hand will be cheaper than buying new, buying seasonal and local will be more affordable than buying out of season.
There are websites, which help people offset their environmental footprint, so if you would like to do that, just research what is available. I’m not recommending any companies here, but make sure you check out who is behind those projects & companies. Some of those businesses are run by the same corporations and people (some of the climate deniers), who got us all into the mess we are in, hoping to make some quick money.
The best offset is always to try to leave as little environmental footprint behind as possible. Keep in mind that small actions do impact your local community, your friends, and your family. With time, your signals will reach the corporations/producers, which will need to adapt to the circular-economy model to thrive in the new world.