Once you have reduced your waste output to landfill, at home and work, increased your recycling and re-use of materials and find yourself refusing to take over-packaged or short-life items when making shopping decisions, your footprint should be significantly reduced. But what comes next?
Thinking about the system - how everything's connected
There are several frameworks available internationally to help you understand links between consumer (or business) choices and environmental impacts.
Most are science-informed, using insights from ecology, physics and chemistry. Two that we like, are One Planet Living, instigated by Bioregional in the UK, and The Natural Step framework which started in Sweden. The Natural Step NZ has accredited advisors available to help businesses and local councils work strategically on sustainability.
The 'circular economy' concept is catching on, where products are designed for later dissassembly and upcycling, mimimising waste and demand for new resources. Interface carpet tiles use this principle, as do Timberland for some shoes, with soles made from tyres that are designed with this re-use in mind.
Useful indicators of your effect on the planet are footprint estimators which use the proxy of hectares of land required to support your current home, travel, food and lifestyle, such as Global Footprint Network (which has a calculator pre-set for Australia but not NZ, and therefore does not take account of our higher proportion of electricity generation from renewable hydro, wind and geothermal energy). The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has a footprint calculator designed for the UK. In NZ, the WWF encourages actions to reduce carbon footprint.
Carbon emission from travel choices and of housing use and waste habits can also be estimated. For New Zealand the leading free calculators are at Enviromark/CarbonZero website. Bioregional (UK) have an interactive footprint website that looks at carbon impacts of homes alongside waste minimisation, travel, food & shopping,appliances, water use, etc.
14 councils across NZ are current subscribers to a community sustainability education website called Future Living Skills, providing up to 2 million residents with free public access to learning guides on eight aspects of practical sustainability at home and work, including waste minimisation. Visit their councils page to see if your District has free access locally. In other Districts individual subscriptions are possible. The materials are designed for informal study groups or tutored classes.
Several councils, including Auckland, run waste education centres such as Zero Waste Zone and non-for-profit Environment Centres or Hubs operate in other locations - they are great sources of advice and inspiration for a low waste lifestyle.The website hosts, Timaru District Council, are watching with interest plans for a sustainability education Eco-Centre in Timaru, to be constructed on a closed landfill.
The NZ Sustainable Business Network has since 2002 been a forum for business-people who seek contact with others sharing that interest and wish to build markets with consumers who also 'get it'.
Conscious Consumers promotes the connection betwetween customers and providers, mostly in retail and hospitality, so that providers are encouraged financially to demonstrate waste minimisation and good environmental choices and consumers can more easily find the 300+ firms now involved.