Environmental Footprints

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source : “Ecological footprint of British city residents”, World Wildlife Fund 2007 ... work is progressing to standardise definitions and improve data sources, .... UNESCO World Heritage Site status, as well as wealth of public open spaces.










H u m a n N V I R O N M E N P r e s s u r e s

S t a t e

o f

t h e

E n v i r o n m e n t

Environmental Footprints


A u d i t


Environmental footprints

Introduction – footprinting methodologies 8.1

Footprinting is a technique used to measure the global environmental impacts and resource implications of different ways of life associated with particular groups of people, localities or countries. It does this through a composite approach, looking at how the various strands of production, transport, energy supply, waste disposal and other aspects of day-to-day activity combine to exert pressures on the environment. Footprinting is particularly used to highlight the disproportionate consumption of resources or production of harmful waste products by a specific community in comparison with the global average, or per capita global availability. The technique can make a useful contribution to environmental monitoring in Edinburgh, since it is one of the few means of demonstrating how local policies and lifestyles have major consequences beyond local and national administrative boundaries, extending to the entire planet.


As described below, there are a number of variants, with their own specific focus. Whilst inequalities in consumption and impacts area a common theme, there is an important distinction in that some footprint measures simply look at relative resource usage, while others look at absolute resource usage in relation to the earth’s finite resources and overall ‘environmental carrying capacity’.


The technique is a powerful way of representing the uneven claims which different communities lay to the earth’s resources, and their effect on the global environment. The output measure is sometimes expressed as a ratio, with values higher than 1 indicating a lifestyle which depends on disproportionately high consumption and waste. In an equitable and sustainable world, the assumption is that everyone would have an even share of resources and an equal impact on the environment, with a universal footprint of 1. Lower footprint values can be achieved without necessarily sacrificing quality of life, by using resources much more efficiently. However, values at the very lowest end of the spectrum tend to be indicative of societies which have been excluded from access to resources, and where economic output and quality of life are low.


An alternative measurement approach, particularly for absolute resource usage, is the area of the earth’s surface which is needed to support each individual in a particular community, and by extension, the wider community itself. This can be grossed up to highlight the number of earth equivalent planets which would be needed if everybody in the world were to consume resources at the same rate as more profligant countries or cities. The conclusions are generally a stark reminder that some communities are living well beyond the earth’s long-term means. However, the range of variation in local and national footprint measures demonstrates that there is ample scope to move towards more sustainable lifestyles.


One of the main factors behind the growing popularity of ‘footprint’ measures is that they provide a basis for quantifiable targets. Highly resource-dependent communities can aim to move towards the global norm, and monitor progress towards this. Another valuable feature is that they enable alternative future scenarios to be tested, and the likely impact of different policy approaches to be gauged.


Two of the most widely applied footprint measures are the ‘ecological footprint’ and the ‘carbon footprint’. The ecological footprint is the area of productive land and sea which is needed to provide all the food, shelter, energy, transport, community services, waste disposal facilities and other material needs of an individual living in a particular lifestyle. Measured in terms of average ‘global hectares’, it may be thought of as the size of garden each person would need to provide all the resources consumed. The calculation is based on a methodology using official economic input / output tables to reflect supply chains and inter-dependencies between different locations and economic sectors. This takes full account of everything from raw material production and processing to distribution networks and disposal, and includes indirect services which are provided on behalf of a whole community.


Carbon footprints are also concerned with composite impacts on the global environment and resources, but instead of focusing on land they focus on the energy budget and the production of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, through the consumption of fossil fuels. This is particularly significant in the context of growing concerns about the role of greenhouse gases as a driver of climate change. Every aspect of life entails some degree of energy consumption – whether for heating homes, using appliances, manufacturing consumer goods, growing food or disposing of waste. The carbon footprint simply measures how efficiently this energy is produced, distributed and used, and the corresponding impact on the environment. It is generally measured in terms of tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. As with ecological footprints, it is possible to trace back indirect impacts through complex linkages (e.g. the energy used to make packaging for a product), and the extent to which this is done can lead to differing definitions of the carbon footprint. Edinburgh’s ecological footprint


For the purposes of local authority performance monitoring, the acknowledged standard for local authority ‘footprint’ measurement is a specialist modelling tool developed by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI). Known as REAP (‘Resource and Energy Analysis Programme’), this builds in information on resource and energy consumption from a wide range of published sources. It can be used to analyse both the ecological footprint and the carbon footprint of any local authority area. The methodology is subject to continuous improvement and refinement as better information becomes available, and this means that results are likely to be revised frequently. The latest published results are based on 2001 datasets, but updated figures for 2003 are expected to be released later in 2008.


Initial findings, published in January 2006, revealed that Edinburgh’s ecological footprint was the highest for any Scottish local authority, and about 8% above the UK average (Graph 1). The Edinburgh figure was 5.83 global hectares per capita compared with 5.4 for the UK. The UK itself is well towards the top of the global league table in terms of resource consumption per capita, although the USA heads the table with an ecological footprint of about 10 g.ha. per capita. Graph 1 : Edinburgh’s comparative ecological footprint, 2001

Ecological footprints 5.23













global hectares per capit


5.00 4.00 3.00


2.00 1.00

World average


Source : Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), 2006


The latest ecological footprints for 60 UK cities have been analysed by the World Wildlife Fund in a report published in September 2007. This includes adjustments to exclude the surrounding rural populations. (‘Ecological footprint of British city residents, WWF, Sept. 2007).

Edinburgh was found to have the 10th largest footprint of any city in the UK and the largest in Scotland, at 5.76 g.ha. or 3.2 planets. The total footprint for all Edinburgh residents was estimated to be some 100 times the land area of the city. 8.11

The rankings range from Newport and Plymouth, which are the least profligate cities with a footprint of 5.01 g.ha. / 2.78 planets, to Winchester at 6.52 g.ha. / 3.62 planets. Glasgow is the least resource-intensive city in Scotland, and is ranked 15th in the UK. The latest figures for Scottish cities are summarised in Table 1. Table 1 : Scottish city comparative ecological footprints footprint in global hectares

planet equivalents



















source : “Ecological footprint of British city residents”, World Wildlife Fund 2007


The study found a clear correlation between a city’s wealth and the magnitude of its footprint. Edinburgh’s relatively high footprint stems from its economic prosperity, which feeds through into higher levels of consumption (both goods and services), more foreign travel, less intensive use of internal and external space etc.


The average ecological footprint for the world’s entire population (at 2001) was just 2.2 global hectares per capita. This has grown rapidly from about 0.5 in 1961. The researchers point out that the world average footprint is now significantly higher than the earth’s productive capacity : If the biologically productive surface of the planet were to be divided equitably, each person would have an allowance of just 1.8 hectares, and even this would need to be shared with other species. This situation, which they term ‘overshoot’, means that humanity is living off the earth’s finite ‘capital’ resources rather than those which are naturally replenished. This is not sustainable over the longer-term, as assets will be degraded and depleted. This is already manifesting itself in trends such as CO2 build-up in the atmosphere, the rapidly growing number of species under threat of extinction, depletion of groundwater reserves, deforestation, and collapse of fisheries.


Graph 2 illustrates the composition of Edinburgh’s ecological footprint in terms of broad activity or demand categories. The largest two categories are energy and food and drink, which between them account for about 41% of total resource consumption. This highlights that there could be considerable scope to reduce Edinburgh’s footprint by promoting sustainable local energy generation, in tandem with energy conservation measures; also by supporting more localised food production, and reducing consumption of highly processed and packaged food.

Graph 2 : Composition of Edinburgh’s ecological footprint Food & drink

0.42 0.17



Energy Capital investment


Travel 0.73


Consumables Government & other Services

0.73 0.76

Housing Holiday activities

Source : Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), 2006

Food & drink

Food & drink purchased for home consumption; alcoholic drinks purchased in a public house; restaurants and other eating out establishments; food take-aways


Domestic fuel including gas, electricity and other fuels, e.g. oil or bio-fuels

Capital investment

Investment in tangible fixed assets such as plant & machinery, transport equipment, dwellings and other buildings & structures


Car fuel; the impact associated with purchasing and maintaining private vehicles and public transport


Includes durable and non-durable items such as newspapers, clothing, appliances, glassware, tools, medical products, audio-visual equipment, personal effects etc.

Government and other

Includes the resources used on our behalf by national and local government, universities & colleges, and balances the Ecological Footprint by taking out overseas tourists in the UK and changes in stocks


Includes private hospitals and education, postal, telephone, water, supply, recreation, insurance, financial services etc.


Building, maintenance & repair of dwellings

Holiday activities

Any consumption by UK residents overseas, from hotel energy requirements to eating out and shopping


It is important to be aware that the ecological footprint methodology involves fairly complex modelling of resource flows, and the results are highly dependent on the assumptions used. For example, one approach might look at the footprint of people who live in a city, while another approach might be to look at all those who are connected with a city, including workers, visitors and tourists as well as residents. Clearly this is has an important bearing on the Edinburgh results. The availability of data can also be an issue at the sub-national level. When local data are not available, it may be necessary to substitute regional or national figures.


Factors such as this explain why different studies will produce slightly varying results. For example, the Scottish Executive commissioned environmental research consultants Best Foot Forward to investigate ecological footprints for Scotland’s four largest cities in 2002, as part of the evidence gathering for the Review of Scotland’s Cities. This placed the cities in a different order from that in the more recent and more comprehensive SEI work. Aberdeen had the largest

footprint, at 5.87 global hectares, followed by Edinburgh (5.60), Dundee (5.51) and Glasgow (5.37). The same study measured Scotland’s footprint at 5.85 and the UK’s at 6.30. 8.17

As indicated already, work is progressing to standardise definitions and improve data sources, and this will hopefully lead to greater comparability between findings in the future, and greater confidence in the conclusions. Edinburgh’s carbon footprint


To date only very broad-brush studies of Edinburgh’s energy budget and carbon footprint have been undertaken. As reported in chapter 7 some information is now becoming available on energy consumption at the local level, albeit in a fairly ‘experimental’ form. This information has been used by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to produce estimates of carbon dioxide emissions at the local authority level throughout the UK. These too are classed as experimental estimates which ‘push the bounds of current methodologies’. The results, which are summarised below, are only regarded as indicative.


The production of local estimates reflects the importance which the government attaches to the role of local authorities in reducing carbon emissions. The National (UK) Climate Change Programme 2006 states that “Local authorities are uniquely placed to provide vision and leadership to local communities, raise awareness and help change behaviours. In addition, through their powers and responsibilities (housing, planning, local transport, powers to promote well-being, and through activities such as their own local procurement and operations) they can have significant influence over emissions in their own local areas”.


Based on the best evidence available, Edinburgh is responsible for some 3.37 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, which amounts to 7.6% of the Scottish total of 44.6 million tonnes. Note that these are ‘net’ figures, allowing for emission and absorption of CO2 through processes of land use change, including afforestation. (Without these land use effects, total emissions for Scotland would have been higher, at 49.1 million tonnes).


Graph 3 shows the total CO2 emissions in 2005 for all local authority areas in Scotland, arranged in descending order. The source of emissions is also shown, in broad sectoral terms ((1) industrial / commercial / agricultural; (2) domestic; (3) transport; and (4) land use). Edinburgh ranks 5th for total emissions, behind Glasgow, Aberdeenshire, Falkirk and Fife. It ranks second for domestic emissions (behind Glasgow), 5th for industrial, commercial and agricultural emissions (behind Falkirk, Aberdeenshire, Glasgow and Fife), and 9th for road transport emissions.


Comparative emissions per person, based on the local resident population, are shown in Graph 4 and Maps 1 and 2. These show that Edinburgh produces less CO2 than the UK and Scottish average, although this is partly a consequence of the way the figures are calculated, as described below. Emissions from domestic sources are a more reliable comparator, and in this respect Edinburgh is still below the Scottish average, but slightly above the UK average. The domestic figure is influenced by factors such as the age and type of housing, fuel mix and local climatic conditions. As Map 2 shows, these tend to put isolated rural areas and more northerly areas at a disadvantage.


However, some rural areas have the capacity to act as significant carbon ‘sinks’, particularly through large scale afforestation. This, together with the opportunities for renewable energy, can help to offset carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption. As Map 1 shows, this has enabled one local authority area (Argyll & Bute) to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces. The scope for locking up carbon through land use change is relatively modest in more urbanised areas such as Edinburgh. Nevertheless, tree planting can make a useful contribution, whilst also providing many other local benefits (see chapter 17).

Graph 3 : Total CO2 emissions by sector for Scottish local authorities, 2005, ranked in descending order (DEFRA, Nov. 2007)

CO2 emissions (thousand tonnes), by local authority, 2005 -2,000








Glasgow City Aberdeenshire Falkirk Fife Edinburgh City North Lanarkshire South Lanarkshire Aberdeen City West Lothian East Lothian Renfrewshire North Ayrshire Perth & Kinross Dundee City Angus Dumfries & Galloway Highland East Ayrshire Stirling Moray Scottish Borders South Ayrshire East Dunbartonshire West Dunbartonshire Inverclyde Clackmannanshire Midlothian East Renfrewshire Shetland Islands Eilean Siar Orkney Islands Argyll and Bute

Industrial & Commercial



Land Use & Forestry

Graph 4 : Comparative per capita CO2 emissions, 2005




8.6 7.5


Total 4.1

source : DEFRA, November 2007













10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

n.b. these results are classed as ‘indicative’

Maps 1 and 2 : Total and domestic per capita CO2 emissions by local authority, 2005

Source : DEFRA, November 2006


n.b. these results are classed as ‘indicative’

The DEFRA estimates are based on the ‘energy end user’ location, i.e. the location where electricity, gas, petroleum and other fuels are consumed rather than where they are generated, manufactured or sold. However, due to data limitations, the end user approach does not extend to secondary energy consumption used in the manufacturing of goods and the provision of services. This biases the emission figures towards areas with significant productive and energy generation capacity, whilst under-stating the figures for more residential areas. Similarly, transport related emissions are based on the location where a journey is made, and do not re-

allocate holiday, business or commercial travel to home or business location of those undertaking a journey. If adjustments were to be made to allow for these factors, they would portray Edinburgh in a less favourable light – probably closer to the situation revealed in the ‘ecological footprint’ analysis. 8.25

It is important to note that the estimates exclude offshore, maritime and air transport emissions, as these cannot readily be disaggregated to the local authority level. However, railways are included in the industrial and commercial sector.


The authors of the DEFRA study acknowledge that there are many limitations on the accuracy of the findings. In particular, considerably more work will be required to make the methodology robust and sensitive enough to detect improvements from local initiatives such as the promotion of renewable energy, energy conservation or recycling. However, many limitations could be overcome by using local knowledge to refine the data inputs and assumptions. Local carbon accounting within Edinburgh is an area where further analysis might usefully be commissioned, specifically to monitor progress with implementation of the Council’s Climate Change Framework.


Analysis of local CO2 emissions has also been undertaken by the Carbon Trust, again using 2004 data (published June 2007). This looked at 33 towns and cities across the UK, including Edinburgh. The total CO2 figure for Edinburgh, 3.28 million tonnes, is virtually identical to that in the DEFRA study. The small difference arises from the fact that the Carbon Trust study is limited to CO2 emitted by human activity.


The Carbon Trust estimated that 44% of Edinburgh’s emissions came from business sources, compared with a UK average of 40%. For comparison the proportion from business sources was 43% in Glasgow, 42% in Greater London, 40% in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastleon-Tyne, 38% in Leeds. This emphasises the important role of Edinburgh’s commercial sector and commercial building stock in any campaign to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The Carbon Trust analysis includes a map of CO2 emissions based on 1 km Ordnance Survey grid squares. An extract showing the Edinburgh area is reproduced below as Map 3. Map 3 : CO2 emissions per sq.km. in the Edinburgh area

source : The Carbon Trust, 2007


The contribution of fossil fuel consumption to the accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases and climate change needs to be viewed in perspective. The burning of fuels is just one of many processes which create CO2, which itself is a naturally occurring substance. For example CO2 is also released through the decomposition of organic material, from geological processes such as volcanic activity, and from other human activities including certain industrial processes. Furthermore, there are other greenhouse gases, such as methane and water vapour, which derive from a mixture of human and natural processes. There is still debate as to the extent of anthropogenic influences on climate change, but this is beyond the scope of the present report.

Other sustainability measures 8.30

Apart from the ecological footprint and carbon footprint, various other rating systems have been developed to measure and compare the environmental performance of different communities. An example is the ‘Sustainable Cities Index’, published by the Forum for the Future (October 2007). This tries to go beyond the strict ‘budgetary’ approach and looks at 13 broad indicators grouped under 3 headings : • the environmental impact of a city in terms of resource use and pollution • the quality of life for residents • future proofing – how well a city is preparing itself for a sustainable future The authors consider that this broader approach is necessary to provide a balanced picture. For example, concentrating purely on environmental impacts would tend to give the best rating to poorer cities, where disadvantage helps to keep impacts low.


The 13 indicators are : ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT (1) Air quality – annual average for particulates (2) River water quality – % of rivers where biological & chemical qualities are classed as ‘good’ or ‘fair’ (3) Ecological footprint – the impact of services, housing, travel, food etc. on the environment (4) Waste collection per head – a partial proxy for the resources used per capita QUALITY OF LIFE (5) Healthy life expectancy at 65 (6) Resident satisfaction with green space (7) Resident satisfaction with local bus services (8) Unemployment – unemployment benefit claimants as a % of the working age population (9) Education – the % of the working age population with NVQ2 or equivalent FUTURE PROOFING (10) Local authority commitments on climate change – based on 3 criteria (11) Green businesses per capita – based on environmental businesses listed on yell.com (12) Biodiversity – percentage of land deemed to favour biodiversity (13) Recycling – improvement in recycling between 2000 / 01 and 2005 / 06, and the overall level of recycling


The FfF study was limited to 20 cities across the UK, of which two (Edinburgh and Glasgow) were in Scotland.


Edinburgh performs relatively well based on this composite methodology, ranking second overall, behind Brighton and Hove (Graph 5). However, this is largely due to high rankings for Quality of Life (2nd) and Future Proofing (2nd). On the Environmental Impact Indicators it only manages 14th out of 20.

Graph 5 : Sustainable Cities Index – composite scores and overall ranking 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20




















Brighton & Hove


source : Forum for the Future, 2007


The FfF report includes the following assessment of Edinburgh : “Edinburgh came second on the overall index. The city came 14th on the Environmental Impact Index and second on both the Quality of Life and Future Proofing Indexes. This is borne out in its current actions, with the city council signed up to Scotland’s Climate Change Declaration, and recently giving the green light for a new tram system, due for completion in 2011. The Scottish capital scored very well on air quality, although the waste and ecological footprint scores were relatively poor. Employment, education and healthy life expectancy were all rated well for the city. The transport score was only average. Green businesses and recycling were rated well. The high Quality of Life rating reflects the city’s overall affluence, capital city and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, as well as wealth of public open spaces. The high score for Future Proofing is encouraging as it indicates that the city realises that there is much still to be done in terms of sustainability.”


Forum for the Future has stated that it plans to update its index every year, to facilitate benchmarking and monitoring of progress towards a more sustainable urban lifestyle.


Another recent study, produced by property and development consultants GVA Grimley, rated Edinburgh as having the lowest ‘carbon footprint impact’ out of 10 major commercial centres across the UK (excluding London). The assessment was not confined to CO2 emissions but was a composite measure which also took account of waste production, recycling rates, re-use of brownfield land, and the energy ratings of new buildings. The study focuses particularly on commercial property, though it also looks at the household and transport sectors. The detailed methodology for producing the combined index score is not disclosed. (‘How Green Is My City? The Carbon Footprint of UK Cities and the Role of Property’, GVA Grimley Research, November 2007. The 10 cities featuring in the study are : Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield).


One interesting finding to emerge from the study is that : “Edinburgh has seen an above average proportion of new developments being awarded one of the top quality BREEAM ratings. If this is maintained into the future for new developments it will, over time, be an important mechanism by which CO2 levels can be reduced”.

(note : BREEAM = Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method; see www.breeam.org) 8.38

Other studies have looked at specific sectors. For example a ‘Green League’ has been produced measuring the environmental performance of UK universities (http://peopleandplanet.org/dl/ gogreen/greenleague2007.pdf). Edinburgh University performs well on this, ranking in joint 8th position (on a par with St. Andrews and Cambridge Universities). However, Queen Margaret University is ranked 66th, Heriot Watt 71st, and Napier 75th. Scoring is based on indicators including the % of energy from renewables, the existence of publicly available environmental policies, environmental audits and green travel plans, the % of waste recycled etc. (However it should be noted that the new Queen Margaret University campus, which is located in East Lothian just outside the Edinburgh boundary, is claimed to have the lowest carbon footprint of any UK campus. The new ‘eco-campus’ opened in 2007 and features a wood chip biomass heating system, substantial new tree and hedgerow planting, and real-time public transport information). Local Footprints Project


In October 2007 Edinburgh was among the first seven Scottish local authorities to sign up to the ‘Local Footprints Project’, a 3 year programme which will help to monitor both ecological footprints and carbon footprints, and provide tailored advice on footprint reduction. This builds on pilot studies carried out in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and North Lanarkshire.


The project is a joint initiative by WWF Scotland and the Sustainable Scotland Network (SSN), with additional support from Eco Schools Scotland, the Improvement Service, the Scottish Government and Scottish Power. It recognises the significant lead which local authorities can provide in reducing environmental impacts, partly through changes to their own operational practices, but also through their wider policy and awareness raising roles. Considerable emphasis is also placed on the involvement of schools, partly as a learning tool, and partly to help schools themselves to become ‘greener’.


During 2007 / 2008 participating local authorities and schools will be encouraged to make their contribution to reducing Scotland’s footprint through the use of footprint analysis to inform policy and practice, and to raise awareness and change behaviour.

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