“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.
By only being able to catch or discover cases of pollution after the fact, the damage has been done, and in some cases is irreversible. A footprint-based system would allow an agency like the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) to set standards that would be easy to enforce and follow.
As the footprint also measures resource usage, it could serve as a means for a company to increase efficiency in methods of production, thereby saving them money. Perhaps they are a plastics company, which manufactures patio furniture using pre-cut forms and moulds. There would be an amount of waste material left over which would be discarded. If the company began an internal recycling program, they could turn the waste back into raw material to be poured into new moulds. Not only would they save on material costs, they would decrease the size of their ecological footprint. Even if only a percentage of recycled material could be reused in each new product, it would still represent a savings on all fronts.
According to Native American belief, the world is one huge interconnected web: pull on one string and it affects the whole, cut one string and the whole is irrevocably damaged. The footprint measurement allows us a way of measuring how hard each of our endeavours plucks a string in the web.
It will also serve as an instruction manual for being able to take steps to rectify problems. If we are willing to make a little effort the return would be inestimable. Not only would sustainable business practices improve the environment, they will also improve the bottom line.
If you were wondering what happened to the big stick, well that’s what would have to be used on any transgressors. If clear guidelines are set forth on how business is to be conducted, there can be no excuses for failure to comply. Anyone straying outside their parameters would have to be punished severely enough to act as a deterrent for others.
We have only the one planet, and there is only so much that it can provide before it is used up. Without proper management and care, we won’t have any resources left to use in the future. What type of profits anyone expects to be able to make from prospects like those is beyond me.