We must stamp our ecological feet

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgSciencebase has been focusing on various environmental and third world problems recently. I say third world, because much of what is euphemistically described as the developing world is sadly not developing at all. If the switch from third to developing has done nothing but salve the conscience of the so-called developed world, then it is, as they say, political correctness gone mad.

Many of the problems, or issues if you wish me to be euphemistic in that regard too, are growing – the poverty gap, the spread of disease, environmental damage. One might blame the tyrannical feudalism that is common in parts of the third world, the lack of educational resources, and a not unexpected reluctance on the part of people mired in such issues to abandon the straws at which they clutch to stay afloat (to mix a metaphor or two). But, some of the problems are in part due to the greed and desire of multinational corporations, company shareholders, and Western consumers, especially when one considers environmental effects.

The phrase “carbon footprint” has taken on a somewhat trite role in the media and in marketing reports. It can be used to offset a lot of tiresome obligations and sits neatly in glossy brochures printed on non-recycled board.

Not quite so well-known is the more general phrase “ecological footprint”. This term encompasses not only the problem of humanity pumping millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmospheric greenhouse and accelerating our possible climatic demise but also those problems associated with good old-fashioned pollution, deforestation, desertification and other nasties.

The ecological footprint concept and calculation method were developed by Mathis Wackernagel under William Rees at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada between 1990 and 1994.

Companies can greenwash endlessly in their marketing with double-talk of sustainability, reduced emissions, and smaller ecological footprints, but are they actually greening their industries or have they simply turned up the G channel in their Photoshopped logo?

Crawford Spence of the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada, would agree. He has analysed the social, environmental and sustainability accounting practices of large corporate entities. His eye is usually on the emphasis placed by such corporates on their ideology, their ethics, their integrity when it comes to environmental issues. Writing in IJMCP (researchblogging reference below), Spence says there is significant organisational resistance to more comprehensive sustainability reporting in the form of ecological footprinting.

He has interviewed corporate social responsibility managers at various companies and identified three issues that companies have with ecological footprinting. First, the cost and resource constraints involved, secondly the perceived poor value of carrying out ecological footprint and its actual impact on practices, and thirdly, the marketing problem in that a published ecological footprint might not reveal the “right picture”. Fundamentally, all three aspects of ecological footprinting prevent many companies from being pro-active in greening their business despite what it says on the tin.

In what will inevitably become an increasingly constrained world in terms of ecology, ecological footprinting, or sustainability reporting, where it exists will be little more than a marketing exercise for many corporates. Spence asserts that “without significant regulatory intervention or restructuring of capital markets it is difficult to see how it could possibly be otherwise”.

Research Blogging IconCrawford Spence (2009). Organisational resistance to ecological footprinting Int. J. Management Concepts and Philosophy, 3 (4), 362-377

6 thoughts on “We must stamp our ecological feet”

  1. @Chris WTF? bigfoor.sciencebase.com? What’s that meant to mean? I really cannot see what point you’re trying to make here, at all. It’s incoherent, garbled, nonsense.

  2. And soon at bigfoor.sciencebase.com, you can find out your science footprint, poverty footprint, disease footprint, marketing footprint, education footprint, straw footprint, media footprint, nasties footprint, exercise footprint, and regulatory footprint.

  3. I have control over about a quarter acre of land that surrounds my house. It used to be farm land and is absolutely the worst soil I’ve ever gardened in where fertility and tilth are concerned. Never-the-less, for the past 17 years I have been engaged in an extreme gardening experiment that involves sequestering enormous amounts of carbon in the topsoil. I won’t detail the results in this comment at this time because I want to share some possibilities with readers of this blog who care about the condition of the planet in relation to the future of civilization.

    To achieve extreme soil fertility I use what I call a nutrient reservoir. This involves digging a hole 2 to 3 feet deep. The only other things needed are an insulated cover and a ring to keep the soil around the perimeter from slumping into the hole. The top third of a metal garbage can is a nice size. The lid can be used to cast multiple concrete covers if one cares to make more rings with the remainder of the can. Otherwise, the bottom two thirds can be used to store the topsoil and ashes that go back into the hole as it gets filled with organic refuse.

    To set up the reservoir, dig the hole so that the ring fits neatly into it with the top at or slightly above grade. Glue 2 inches of polystyrene foam onto the bottom of the concrete lid with foam and panel adhesive. Foam should fit inside the can, of course.

    After set up, one can insert all manner of organic waste generated by a household into the reservoir. This includes kitchen waste (including spoiled leftovers, chicken bones, egg shells), yard waste (including leaves, twigs, weeds, pine cones, etc.), crop residue, animal and human feces, human urine, fish guts, road kill, paper, cardboard – whatever soil microbes can feed on. Add a few cups of topsoil and (if available) ashes each day. When the hole gets full, cover with a few inches of topsoil and wait a year before planting anything on that spot.

    The mixture of organic material will subside as the earthworms, beetles, and soil microbiota feed. In the country, this system can eliminate the need for a drain field. In a municipality, it reduces water usage. In fact, water from showering, washing dishes, preparing food, and washing clothes can be diverted to irrigate the yard and garden.

    Over the years, I’ve cone to realize that being wasteful of organic resources, by disposing of them in the customary ways, adds nothing to the quality of our lives except perhaps convenience. But the price of convenience, in terms of environmental degradation, is beyond comprehension. So rather than drive to the gym to get some exercise, dig a few holes, chop up some tree limbs, collect waste material, make some compost. Try extreme gardening.

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