Con­sid­er your impact on the world around you

Have you ever noticed your foot­prints in the sand? When you step, you leave a mark which can last a long time after you have left.

In the same way, humans place pres­sure on the envi­ron­ment by the way they live their lives. Sci­en­tists came up with the idea of the eco­log­i­cal foot­print” to show how hard we tread on the Earth’s resources.

How large is your eco­log­i­cal footprint?

The size of your eco­log­i­cal foot­print depends on how much bio­log­i­cal­ly pro­duc­tive land and water you require to live your life. You can reduce your eco­log­i­cal foot­print by not wast­ing elec­tric­i­ty and water, cycling or walk­ing to places close by rather than dri­ving, and eat­ing local­ly pro­duced rather than import­ed food.

The aver­age South African’s eco­log­i­cal foot­print is 2.8 hectares of food, fibre, tim­ber, land and ener­gy, accord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2001 Liv­ing Plan­et report. But the Earth can only sup­port an aver­age of 1.8 hectares per per­son. Can we afford to take more than our fair share of resources from the Earth?

Every per­son can make a dif­fer­ence by chang­ing her or his pat­tern of behaviour.

The quan­ti­ty of resources you require to con­tin­ue liv­ing the way you do is called your eco­log­i­cal foot­print”. In 2001, the World Wildlife Fund’s Liv­ing Plan­et report esti­mat­ed that pop­u­la­tions on Earth had an eco­log­i­cal foot­print about 20% big­ger than what the Earth could sus­tain. This means humans are tak­ing more than what the Earth can replen­ish in a giv­en year. We are run­ning up an eco­log­i­cal debt and soon the Earth’s nat­ur­al cap­i­tal” will run out. We can­not sus­tain this trend.

Your eco­log­i­cal foot­print is how much of the Earth’s bio­log­i­cal­ly pro­duc­tive land you need to sup­port your lifestyle

If you are care­ful about the amount of elec­tric­i­ty and fuel you use, the types of food you eat, the amount of water you use and the amount of waste you pro­duce, you could have quite a small foot­print – which is good for the envi­ron­ment. But if we all live by con­sum­ing too many of the Earth’s resources, the Earth won’t be able to recov­er in time to sup­port the lifestyles of future generations.

The World Wildlife Fund has cal­cu­lat­ed that South Africans have an aver­age eco­log­i­cal foot­print of 2.8 hectares. That is how much food, fibre, tim­ber, land and ener­gy we use to live our lives each year. But nature is only able to renew the sup­ply of 1.8 hectares per per­son, which means that we are run­ning on overdraft.

Did you know?

If the whole world lived like South Africans, we would need 1 and a half Earths to sus­tain us. But if we all lived liked Amer­i­cans, we would need the about 5 plan­ets to sus­tain our way of life.

The Earth is able to replen­ish its resources at about 1.8 hectares per per­son per year. But glob­al­ly, our cur­rent annu­al eco­log­i­cal foot­print is 2.2 hectares. We are there­fore spend­ing” more resources than the Earth can sustain.

How big is your eco­log­i­cal footprint?

Sci­en­tists use com­plex for­mu­lae to work out exact­ly how big the eco­log­i­cal foot­print of a pop­u­la­tion group is. But the ideas behind the cal­cu­la­tions are sim­ple and we can get a rough idea of our foot­print by being hon­est about our lifestyles. One way to reduce your eco­log­i­cal foot­print is to buy local­ly pro­duced foods and goods which don’t have to be trans­port­ed long distances.

Below are some ques­tions you can ask yourself:


Did you know a veg­e­tar­i­an diet is kinder to the planet?

How often do you eat meat?

  • Often. Almost every day.
  • Occa­sion­al­ly. Once or twice a week.
  • Sel­dom or never

When you shop, do you make an effort to pur­chase local­ly pro­duced food?

  • No, not really.
  • Some­times. I look out for South African brands (like Weet­bix and local­ly pro­duced boere­wors) that I like.
  • Always. Where pos­si­ble, I buy South African brands, espe­cial­ly local fruit and vegetables.

How do you get to school or work?

  • By car
  • By bus, minibus taxi or in a car pool
  • By bicy­cle or on foot

How many of the fol­low­ing items do you recy­cle? – paper, glass, alu­minum or tin cans

  • None
  • 1
  • 2 – 3

How much waste does your fam­i­ly throw away per week?

  • More than 30kg or 2 full bin bags
  • Two full bin bags (or a wheel­ie bin) – 30kg
  • One full bin bag – 15kg

Vis­it http://​www​.myfoot​print​.org to accu­rate­ly cal­cu­late your footprint.

If you find your­self answer­ing most ques­tions with the first answer, your eco­log­i­cal foot­print is prob­a­bly quite big. Try to think about ways you could reduce it. Every small con­tri­bu­tion will help. If you select­ed the sec­ond answer most often, your eco­log­i­cal foot­print is slight­ly small­er, and it is small­est if you picked the third answer most often. We can all do more to reduce our eco­log­i­cal footprints.

Reduc­ing your foot­print – one small step at a time.

Look­ing after the envi­ron­ment is often about per­son­al choic­es. Nobody can force you to change your lifestyle.

Below are some prac­ti­cal ways of reduc­ing your eco­log­i­cal foot­print. Pick a few and try them out.

Reduce waste

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Reduce waste by recycling

Don’t throw every­thing in the bin. Some items can be re-used or recy­cled. Paper, card­board, tins, cans and glass are all recy­cled in South Africa. Re-use shop­ping bags and envelopes.

Buy less. If you buy less, you will throw away less.

Try to buy prod­ucts with less pack­ag­ing. Econ­o­my packs often give you more val­ue for mon­ey and less pack­ag­ing per kilo­gram than small­er packs. Buy­ing your fruit and veg­eta­bles fresh rather than pre-pack­aged can also cut down on pack­ag­ing waste.

Remem­ber the four R’s — reduce, reuse, repair and recycle!

Go Local

Buy items that are local­ly pro­duced. Food grown in your coun­try, your province or near your home, often tastes bet­ter than food shipped thou­sands of kilo­me­tres. The huge food trans­port indus­try adds to car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, which pol­lute the air.

Start a veg­etable gar­den. You can’t get fresh­er veg­eta­bles than those grown in your gar­den. They taste great as well! Grow­ing your own can save you mon­ey and reduce your eco­log­i­cal footprint.

Build a com­post heap. By throw­ing your left­over food on the com­post heap, you will reduce the amount of waste that needs to be trans­port­ed to the dump and the amount of ener­gy need­ed to gen­er­ate new vegetables.


Reduce air pollution

You can reduce your eco­log­i­cal foot­print by choos­ing a more effi­cient mode of transport.

Use a car with a small­er engine. Cars with small­er engines release less car­bon diox­ide into the atmosphere.

Start a lift club. This will save mon­ey and reduce car­bon emis­sions. Using pub­lic trans­port instead of your car also means less pol­lu­tion in the air.

Walk or cycle if pos­si­ble. It’s health­i­er and the only car­bon diox­ide you emit is through your breath­ing (very little).


Did you know that if your home is elec­tri­fied it is pow­ered by fire? If you fol­low the wire on the oth­er end of your wall sock­et out of your house and along the pow­er lines to its source, it will prob­a­bly end up at a coal-fired pow­er sta­tion. 92% of South Africa’s elec­tric­i­ty is pro­duced from coal.

So when you switch on a light or any appli­ance, you are in effect start­ing a fire which emits car­bon into the atmos­phere – a major con­trib­u­tor to glob­al warming.

How can I reduce my ener­gy footprint?

Light­ing. Use ener­gy-sav­ing lamps instead of ordi­nary bulbs and turn off your lights when they’re not need­ed. Ener­gy-sav­ing lamps use about a quar­ter of the elec­tric­i­ty of ordi­nary lamps.

Heat­ing. Your house needn’t be a sauna in win­ter. Put on an extra jer­sey rather than turn­ing the heat up. Prop­er­ly insu­lat­ing your house can also dras­ti­cal­ly reduce heat­ing and cool­ing costs.

Appli­ances. Cook with small appli­ances where pos­si­ble. Toast­ers, elec­tric grills, elec­tric ket­tles and pres­sure cook­ers use less elec­tric­i­ty than big­ger appli­ances like elec­tric stoves. Also, look out for ener­gy effi­cien­cy rat­ings on appli­ances which will save ener­gy and you mon­ey in the long run. Only boil the amount of water you need or leave the oven on only when real­ly necessary.



There are many ways to save water

Our water foot­print” has sky­rock­et­ed over the last 150 years, from each per­son using on aver­age 18 litres per day in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry to about 160 litres per day at the end of the 20th century.

By employ­ing a few, easy water-sav­ing tech­niques, you can reduce your water footprint.

Take a show­er rather than a bath. A show­er uses less than half the water need­ed for a bath, which saves water as well as the elec­tric­i­ty need­ed to heat it. Try and take short­er showers.

Save water by turn­ing off the tap while brush­ing your teeth, shav­ing or wash­ing your hands.

Throw junk in the bin, not in the toi­let. Dis­pose of tis­sues, dead insects and oth­er waste in the bin where possible.

Water your gar­den dur­ing the cool parts of the day. You can lose sub­stan­tial amounts of water to evap­o­ra­tion if you water on hot and/​or windy days.

Look for hid­den water leaks. Check your water meter when no water is being used. If it does not read exact­ly the same after two hours, you have a leak. A small drip can mean hun­dreds of litres of water wast­ed in a year.

Return to the Exhi­bi­tion Guide.