Cloughjordan Ecovillage has an ecological footprint of 2 global hectares (gHa), the lowest of any community recorded in Ireland. The results, based on the first complete survey of ecovillage residents carried out last April and May, were presented at a meeting on November 24th by Dr Vincent Carragher of the Tipperary Energy Agency (TEA). This compares very favourably with estimates of other urban settlements in Ireland and of international estimates of Irish people’s average ecological footprint. A survey of 79 Irish settlements found an ecological footprint (EF) of 4.3 gHa.
The measure estimates the amount of global hectares required to sustain the lifestyle patterns analysed. It has been estimated that 1.8 gHa is the limit that the planet can sustain for any individual. The ecological footprint is an international measure of pressure on the environment. It measures stresses on natural resources and on ecosystems due to people’s patterns of consumption and mobility. The survey completed by ecovillage residents covered energy, waste, transport, water and food.
Analysis of the data was undertaken by the TEA and the response rate of 94% of households was far higher than has been achieved by similar surveys in other communities. Dr Carragher showed how the ecovillage footprint compares with others in Ireland. Along with the average of 4.3 gHa for 79 settlements, a commuter community surveyed had an EF of 3.9 gHa. Ballina, Co. Tipperary, having introduced a four-year planned campaign to reduce its footprint, ended up with an EF of 2.9 gHa.
As a measure of our footprint on the ecosystem, the EF calculates the carbon intensity of our activities, in other words how much ’embodied energy’ there is in them. So, for example, the calculation of an EF based on car usage doesn’t only take into account the emissions from the use of the car but also from the building of the roads infrastructure required for car use, the manufacture of the car and its destruction or recycling when its useful life comes to an end.
Or, to take another example, calculating the EF of a heavy meat eater not only includes the emissions generated by the animals themselves but also the emissions from the growing of the grain that they are fed and that is often transported over long distances before it gets fed to them thereby embodying many carbon miles.
Obviously, the calculations can only be approximations but the development of the EF as a globally used measure has had to develop formulae for such calculations. Based on these, our ecological footprint is the sum of the carbon intensity of the various activities it is based upon – car transport, air travel, water usage, energy usage, waste and food.
The Living Planet Report estimated ecological footprints for every country in the world. Though using a methodology somewhat different from that used by TEA in Cloughjordan, the 2012 LPR report found the average Irish person has an EF of 6.2 gHa while the EU has an average of 4.7 gHa. The 2014 LPR estimated that Ireland has the 14th highest EF in the world.
The EF is also used to calculate how many planets would be needed to support our current patterns of consumption. The Living Planet Report estimates that humanity as a whole would need one and a half planets today and if we keep living as we do now, almost three planets by 2050. By contrast living as we do in the ecovillage requires 1.1 planets at the moment. This compares to the 2.3 planets that would be required for the 79 Irish settlements surveyed or the 3.4 planets that would be required on the basis of the Living Planet Report’s measure of the Irish footprint.
Though we may have the lowest EF recorded in Ireland and one very close to the 1.8 gHa that is the maximum each member of humanity has, the ecovillage is now challenged to reduce our EF to at least 1.8 gHa if not more. I plan in the New Year therefore to put a process in place that will allow us learn more fully the lessons of the 2014 survey (the areas where we are strong and those where we are weak and why) and put in place a plan systematically to reduce our EF.
Knowing our EF, therefore, is only the first step in a long process of moving towards a low-carbon society living within the boundaries of the planetary ecosystem. In this way, the ecovillage is modeling how the whole of society (both in Ireland and elsewhere) can move towards living sustainably for the decades ahead.
The following pie charts give a comparison between Cloughjordan’s EF and those of a range of other Irish towns and communities, taken from the existing literature. There is much to be learnt from examining them.