Every day I use the resources that planet Earth makes available to me. Every day I have an impact on it.
I consume the Earth's products in every facet of my life: food, transport, housing, clothing, leisure... I touch every productive surface, whether forests, farmland, pastures, drinking water or ocean resources.
But what is an ecological footprint?
The ecological footprint is a concept that measures the impact humans have on the physical environment. William E. Rees of the University of British Columbia is one of the fathers of the concept.
Several definitions and calculation methods are used to define this concept. Wikipedia has popularized it to make it easy to understand: "The ecological footprint is an indicator and a method of environmental assessment that accounts for the pressure exerted by humans on natural resources and the "ecological services" provided by nature".
In other words, the ecological footprint of an individual, a population or a company corresponds to the productive ecological surface required to sustainably maintain them at their current standard of living. It is calculated on the basis of energy and raw materials consumed, as well as disposal and waste.
Earth Overshoot Day
The concept of the ecological footprint has led environmentalists to another notion that is still in its infancy and can be questioned for its accuracy.
However, it is still an important indicator: Earth Overshoot Day. This is a calculation carried out by the American organization Global Footprint Network to assess the day of the year when the ecological footprint of the entire human race exceeds available raw materials (biocapacity). It's a calculation that compares the supply of the planet's raw resources with human demand for these same resources.
According to the organization's data, Earth Overshoot Day arrives a little earlier each year. For example, in 2017 it occurred on August 2, in 2016 on August 3 and in 2015 on August 4. In 1971, it seems we start living on credit on December 21 (less population and consumption!). This means that humanity's ecological footprint is growing.
The ecological footprint of clothing
The footprint of an industry or object is also a concept that can be assessed. To calculate the ecological impact of a garment, its entire life cycle must be taken into account. Mistra Future Fashion, a Swedish interdisciplinary research organization, has published a report evaluating the overall ecological cost of a garment.
By life cycle, we mean all stages of production, from the cultivation of raw materials, to fiberization, dyeing and weaving. Added to this is distribution, which involves trans-oceanic or domestic transport to the point of sale. Then comes the calculation of the impact of product consumption: consumer transport, washing, drying and ironing. And finally, the ecological impact of a garment's end-of-life, ie landfill or incineration.
The calculation takes into account, among other things, the average number of times a type of garment is used. For example, it is estimated that a T-shirt is worn an average of 22 times (can you believe it! 22 times! That's almost like considering it a disposable product!) before reaching its end-of-life, whereas a pair of jeans is worn an average of 200 times.
The factors assessed are manifold. The main ones concern carbon emissions, acidification, watercourse degradation, potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic impact on humans, land use and energy used.
In this study, they compared the impact of a cotton garment with a similar garment made from Tencel. Once again, we see that the impact of a garment made from a textile considered to be environmentally friendly is quite noticeable, and that the difference appears to be significant. Once again, this brings us back to the most sustainable avenue, that of reducing our consumption.
We, as consumers, are the fundamental building blocks of the clothing market (and of all other consumer goods!). By being as informed as possible, we can choose the products with the lowest environmental impact by answering the following questions: does the product I'm buying have a high or low impact? Can I find something better?
Evaluate your ecological footprint
The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Fight against Climate Change has put together an interesting tool for calculating our ecological footprint. This tool was developed for children, but can also be used by adults, and even better, as a family! Calculate your ecological footprint.