In the United States, the biggest and most worrisome part of our collective Ecological Footprint is the carbon emitted as we consume energy, Wackernagel said. The two most obvious ways individuals can make a difference are in housing and transportation. How you get to and from your house to everywhere else in your life is just as important as the house itself.
If you live in a place with good public transportation so that a car is not essential and services like grocery stores are within walking distance, your footprint is already shrinking. If you live in a modestly sized, 2,000-square-foot rowhouse with shared walls, fewer resources are needed to build it, and less energy is required to heat and cool it.
(Susan Brown/FTWP) - Mathis Wackernagel, the man who devised the Ecological Footprint, a widely used metric for assessing the impact of human activities on the earth’s resources, commutes to work every morning on a tandem bicycle.
You can reduce the size of your Ecological Footprint further still if you’re willing to live in an apartment building, Wackernagel said. The model he proposed would be based on the Second Empire style and Beaux-Arts apartment buildings that were built along the wide boulevards of Paris more than 100 years ago. These have six floors, which turns out to be the optimal height for an apartment house in terms of cost and energy. Above this height, pumping equipment is required to maintain adequate water pressure to the upper floors. With six stories or less, a hydraulic elevator, which costs far less and consumes far less energy than alternatives, would be adequate. “The single elevator in the old Parisian buildings moves so slowly that most people walk up, and it gives them three more years of life expectancy,” Wackernagel said.
Most Americans would find walking up six flights of stairs unacceptable, regardless of the health benefits. But if this condition were in a building that did in some way conjure the wonder of Paris, and the city where it was built had compelling cultural and social attractions, I would say that real estate developers could still expect a lot of takers.
For more information on the Ecological Footprint, including a tool that lets you calculate your own, go to footprintnetwork.org.
Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Michigan.