In my house we’ve been talking a lot lately about consumption—more specifically, about the relationship between consumption and our carbon footprint. In the green-building world, when we talk about a footprint, it’s usually related to building design. But Ray Cole at the University of British Columbia and Don Fugler at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), among others, have pointed out that the carbon footprint of an individual or a household comprises not just the operation of the home but also several additional elements: personal transportation, consumables (food, clothing, household maintenance supplies, drugstore items, etc.), vacations, and durable goods.
In fact, CMHC’s research suggests that a household’s simplest pathway to net-zero energy may be moving to the city and giving up the use of private automobiles for daily transportation. That option may not be for everyone, but we can all look beyond—and within—the walls of our buildings to find other ways to reduce our footprints.
We typically visualize a footprint in terms of the area it occupies. Picture that adorable iconographic image of your baby’s foot, inked on a piece of paper or immortalized on a ceramic tile; it has two dimensions. But a footprint in sand, for example, has three dimensions: It also has depth. A footprint’s depth is determined by the amount of weight above it. So two people with the same size foot, but different weights, will produce footprints of different depths.
In our family discussions, we have concluded that the depth of one’s footprint is a function of how overweight one is, and by extension, of how much one over-consumes all manner of things, not just food.
I confess, more for economic reasons than as a matter of virtue, that I’ve greatly curtailed my clothing purchases over the past year. I’m also working on cutting back my consumption of other goods; food, too, especially white foods (white flour, white sugar, white rice, white pasta).
My guilty pleasure is catalogs, which feed my aesthete’s lust for beautiful things. I’m working on getting off catalog mailing lists so that I’m not tempted as often. (You can, too, at catalogchoice.org.) And I’m promptly recycling the catalogs that do come in.
Where am I going with this? I know this blog is supposed to be about design, but those of us who are designers design more than homes; we design processes and lifestyles, starting with our own. Every aspect of life is a design project in progress. I’m working to lighten my footprint, by design.
Check out footprintnetwork.org for resources to help lighten yours.