"Walk softly and carry a big stick," Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying in reference to foreign policy. In some ways it could also be the new motto for environmental groups. As human presence on the planet continues to grow, means of curtailing our impact on the natural world become even more pressing.
The primary means of doing this should be through education on how everyone can decrease the effect they have on living here, and punishing those who step over the line. There is already a means for measuring our footprint's depth based on the amount of resources used and waste created by individuals and cities.
When the data is assembled, calculations can be made estimating the number of "earths" it would take to sustain a family or city to continue living their current lifestyle. Factors such as what type of foods are eaten, how many cars are driven (and used by how many people) are considered to generate an assessment of the drain on non-sustainable resources and waste generation.
At present, this system is nothing more than a rough gauge against which we can judge our behaviour patterns in an effort to live in a more sustainable manner. Serious adjustments would need to be made to incorporate enough factors to make this an accurate standard by which we could judge the impact a business has on the environment.
There are two major concerns that are not taken into consideration in the footprint measurement. One is the consumption and use of both fresh and salt water; the other is the speed at which sustainable goods are spent.
The real problem facing the world is not, as most people think, the depletion of non-sustainable goods, but the speed at which we go through sustainable ones. Although the earth is able to replenish itself, it is not able to keep up with our demands. This is the cause of famines, droughts, and any other shortages experienced on a regular basis throughout the world.
Water consumption is of major importance as it is such a vital component of life. It is imperative in any impact study that the effects on the water table as well as on any bodies of water in the vicinity are considered. Omitting that is the equivalent of not considering the health of a human's blood in the search for an illness.
Currently we have a piecemeal system in place. Individual statistics are gathered on an industry's CO2 emissions, or the waters nearby a manufacturing plant are checked for pollutants on a complaint-only basis. It's unfair to both industry and the planet in its methodology and ineffectiveness.