Guillermo Umaña Macquarie University

au October, 2010

EFA, a Critical Review based on Sutcliffe et. Al (2008)

Sutcliffe, M., Hooper, P. and Howell, R. (2008) Can Eco-Footprinting Analysis Be Used Successfully to Encourage More Sustainable Behaviour at the Household Level? Sustainable Development 16: 1-16.

The technique of Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) has been widely used to understand global and national ecological impacts, but its use for individual households has not been extensively spread. The study by Sutcliffe et al. (2008) Can Eco-Footprinting Analysis Be Used Successfully to Encourage More Sustainable Behaviour at the Household Level? talks about the possibility of using this tool to create conscience about ecological impacts and engage people into changing their individual behaviours. The proposal of this study is that current global lack of sustainability should be linked to personal lifestyles. Changes have to be done in a bottom-up approach because there is a lack of political will to reduce national ecological footprints in most countries.

A summary of the Study: EFA is based on the assumption that to live sustainably humans must use nature s renewable products and services no more quickly than they are replaced, and produce waste no more quickly than nature can absorb it (Sutcliffe et al. 2008: 2). According to the Global Footprint Network

(2010), it calculates how much biologically productive area is required to produce the resources for the human population and to absorb its waste . EFA measures transport use, energy consumption, waste production, food consumption and built land. Sutcliff (et al. 2008) argue that the world´s available bioproductive area is 1.8 hectares per capita, but the world´s footprint is now greater than 2.2 hectares per person. The question is: Do people change their behaviour towards less resource intensive life styles when knowing these facts or do people need other incentives to change their lifestyles?

The study was divided into four questionnaires that measured environmental awareness and attitudes, individual environmental footprint and reactions towards changing personal behaviour in the short-term. It was designed for 18 households in the UK and relied on the honesty of the participants through all the study.

The experiment threw positive results. All the households made an effort to reduce their impact in the short-term after knowing the environmental impacts of their personal life styles, but the study does not lead to a precise conclusion on if EFA is always as effective as this small sample shows. According to Sutcliffe et al (2008:14) The question remains as to whether people can be persuaded to reduce their eco-footprints to [a lower] level .

Is EFA effective on its own or are other incentive are needed? The truth is that people always need to be moved by a personal benefit to change their lifestyles. It would be too hopeful to think that the subjects in the study changed their behaviours only by seeing their EFA results. If that was the case, household consumption around the world would be much less than it is now. Nowadays everyone has been exposed to figures and facts about their

personal environmental impact, either on the media or in an academic environment. Sadly, most people´s actions do not change much.

If individual households see a positive cost-benefit aspect after going through an EFA they will definitely change their attitude towards consumption. The Best Foot Forward organisation provides EFA for companies and it is effective because it provides cost-benefit analysis and business strategies that would reduce environmental impacts and at the same time give productivity to the company (Best Foot Forward 2010), the same could be done on households.

There are many examples of people´s everyday life when some sort of environmental footprint analysis has been made but it has not had the impact that it is supposed to. Many High school and university environmental programmes have activities that are designed to create awareness of student´s ecological footprint, but they hardly change behaviours. Everyone has, at some point in their life, been surveyed for some EFA study. In these surveys many people give answers that do not reflect the real impact. The acknowledgment of our wrong behaviour does not change our ways of consuming or producing wastes. This is why the fact that Sutcliffe (et al.) study relies on the answers of such a small sample does not lead to very good conclusions about the effectiveness in making people aware of their impact.

The value of the Ecological Footprint Analysis: But EFA must not be discarded. It is much more accurate than other sustainability measures because it takes into account almost every aspect of a lifestyle. It is true that the EFA facilitates discussions and decision-making processes by providing a solid knowledge base and an easily applicable calculation method (Stoeglehner & Narodoslawsky 2008). The bottom-up approach, as

Sutcliffe (et al. 2008) propose it, could be combined with a well structured top-down approach. If people become aware of their personal impacts, their pressure on politics would be stronger towards more sustainable policies. According to the NSW government, in a survey made in 2009 only 78% of people in the state were concerned about environmental problems, compared to 87% in 2006. This is a real life example of how awareness per se is not the answer to change environmental behavior; people continuously start and stop doing sustainable activities. A cost-benefit pressure would make changes steadier. The study by Sutcliffe (et al. 2008) takes into account opinions by a great variety of authors and does not aim to get to a single conclusion but to open doors for new ideas and discussions. Although the sample used might have been influenced by the pressure of being part of a study and honesty in the study is debatable, the overall study is an inspiration to involve common people into effective ways of dealing with environmental damage. The text is written in a way that shows every important part of the experiment and relates the issue with other studies. It also shows relevant graphics. The article ends by stating that further investigation should be made and leaves space for further debate, which is crucial when relating science and politics.

The conclusion is that a bottom-up approach should be encouraged, giving people the opportunity to benefit from their behavioral change. A global change in production, consumption, population control and ecosystem protection (WWF 2002) would be a good combination with the bottom-up approach. A form of politics that is highly influenced by civilians that are aware of their own footprint is desirable. Individuals should start living more sustainable lives before governments approve any sort of environmental policies, as Sutcliffe (et al.2008) suggest as a concluding argument.

References y Best Foot Forward Organization. (2010). Products and Services, BFF, viewed 29 September, 2010, y Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW Government. (2010). Who cares about the environment in 2009? At a Glance, viewed 10 October, 2010, pdf y Global Footprint Network. (2010). Footprint Calculator Frequent Asked Questions, GFN, viewed 29 September, 2010, ly_asked_questions/ y Stoeglehner, Gernot., Narodoslawsky, Michael .(2008). Implementing ecological footprinting in decision-making processes. Land Use Policy, Science Direct. Volume 25, Issue 3 Pages 421-431 y Sutcliffe, M., Hooper, P. and Howell, R. (2008). Can Eco-Footprinting Analysis Be Used Successfully to Encourage More Sustainable Behaviour at the Household Level? Sustainable Development 16: 1-16. y WWF Website. (2002). Living Planet Report 2002, WWF, viewed 10 October, 2010, [29 September 2010].

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