Sustainability and Eco-Footprint Calculator: Consumer’s Burden?

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A colleague of mine pointed out an interesting survey by the University of British Columbia.  It’s the sustainability calculator, which is really two surveys which measure eco-footprints as well as general attitudes surrounding the issue of sustainable living.

You can take the surveys here where your answers will be stored in the database.  Be prepared to be surprised by the results, particularly the eco-footprint survey which tells you how many ‘earths’ it would take if everyone lived the way you’ve described your own habits.

The surveys feature a few leading questions, the most leading being “do you think that sustainability is your responsibility or someone else’s” with only those two answers available.    I mean, I know what they’re getting at with that question.   But as it is, the question comes off as being entirely rhetorical which weakens the impact for me.

Yet,  I think the main point of the survey, beyond some clunky wording here and there, is that sustainability is about the examination and revision habits, and accepted social norms.  For instance, most of the questions centre around your choice of diet, your daily means of gettting from A to B, and your general habits as a consumer overall.

There are all kinds of nuances here that are certainly open to discussion.  For me, there are shades of the old 70s ‘Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute’ campaign creeping in, which despite its good intentions, puts the burden of ecological health solely on individual consumers, without mentioning big business.

Image courtesy of Fuzzy Gerdes.  Click image to view Flickr stream.

Image courtesy of Fuzzy Gerdes. Click image to view Flickr stream.

The burden of a sustainability mandate can’t rest entirely on individual results.  Revising consumerist or dietary habits  is certainly a part of the equation.  But, there has to be more to it than that.  There must be ubiquitous mechanisms in place which make more sustainable living a matter of course, rather than a hardship complete with accusatory finger-waggling at ordinary people.   Let’s make it easy and attractive for people to use their cars less than they do, to buy locally produced food, to eat less red meat, and yes – to buy green building materials, too.  This to me is a major area of discussion, and where the biggest room for growth is.

Examination and revision of social norms and societal expectations when it comes to lifestyles are a huge part of sustainability.  This  seems like a necessary step in moving toward a civilization which requires only one earth to sustain us, even as we sustain it.  But, we need the support of those systems which currently manage resources, and the support of distribution channels that allow consumers access to them.

“Is sustainability your responsibility or someone elses’?”

The answer is ‘yes’.



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Rob Jones

Rob served as Editor-In-Chief of BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home from 2007-2016. He is a writer, Dad, content strategist, and music fan.