Canberra’s Ecological Footprint – there is a silver lining!

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The ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment has released a report that indicates Canberrans are consuming more of the earth’s natural resources than they did ten years ago.

The ACT Ecological Footprint, compiled by the University of Sydney, is expressed in global hectares, and measures the amount of land required to support a community’s demand for goods and services, shelter, transport, food and energy. It also takes into account the area needed to absorb our waste (including greenhouse gases).

In 2008-­2009, the average Canberran consumed 9.2 global hectares, 8% higher than 5 years ago and almost 25% higher than 10 years ago. The ACT’s Ecological Footprint was 13% above the national average and nearly 3.5 times the global average.

Canberrans used 14 times the land area of the ACT to support our lifestyles, and if everyone in the world lived in the same way as the average Canberran, we would need 5 Earths to give us enough land (and surface water) to provide our resources and absorb our wastes.

When you dig deeper into this report, it becomes clear that the main reason for the increase in Canberra’s ecological footprint is the growth in consumption of goods and services in line with the increase in incomes of Canberra households in the past decade (both incomes and consumption have risen more in Canberra than in other parts of Australia).

However, the greatest single contributor to Canberra’s ecological footprint remains electricity supply, which contributes 12% of the total, far outstripping the next largest contributors to our footprint: residential building construction (6%), retail trade (6%), hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes (5%), air and space transport (4%), and petrol (4%).

On a positive note, there has been a 6% drop in emissions from electricity use per Canberra household between 2003-04 and 2007-08 and a 7% fall in natural gas usage over the same period. Therefore, continuing to focus on reducing our electricity and natural gas consumption can make a huge difference to Canberra’s ecological footprint.

Residential building construction ranks second due mainly to the forest area needed to grow timber for construction as well as the carbon footprint of generating energy used in construction. The high ecological footprint created by retail trade is mainly due to the fuel consumption of the vehicles used to distribute the goods and the electricity used in shops. Petrol and aviation fuel use is a significant cause of our high footprint in air and land transport. On a positive note here too, the report finds that fuel use in passenger cars seems to have plateaued in the last few years.

Below are the top 25 commodities in terms of per-capita ecological footprint in the ACT in 2008-09:

Rank Commodity Impact (global hectares/capita) % of


1 Electricity supply 1.07 12%
2 Residential building construction 0.56 6%
3 Retail trade 0.51 6%
4 Hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes 0.44 5%
5 Air and space transport 0.35 4%
6 Petrol 0.32 4%
7 Other food products 0.29 3%
8 Wooden furniture 0.25 3%
9 Ownership of dwellings 0.24 3%
10 Clothing 0.21 2%
11 Electronic equipment 0.20 2%
12 Beef cattle 0.17 2%
13 Finished cars 0.16 2%
14 Education 0.15 2%
15 Non-building construction 0.14 2%
16 Gas supply 0.14 2%
17 Non-residential building construction 0.14 1%
18 Wheat 0.12 1%
19 Recorded media and publishing nec 0.10 1%
20 Pharmaceutical goods for human use 0.09 1%
21 Community services and religious organisations 0.09 1%
22 Wholesale trade 0.09 1%
23 Federal government 0.09 1%
24 Beer and malt 0.08 1%
25 Sport and recreation services 0.08 1%

Source: The 2008-09 Ecological Footprint of the population of the ACT, Integrated Sustainability Analysis, University of Sydney, December 2010

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  1. [...] out from this report is the rather depressing news that Canberrans used 14 times the land area of the ACT to support [...]

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