Creating an Ecological Footprint Assessment: Using Component and Compound Economic Input Output Methods
“...universities[/colleges]...have a particular responsibility in being role models for best environmental practice due to their significant influence on societal development.”
Ecological footprint studies, or environmental assessment studies, of universities/ colleges demonstrate the need for integrating environmental/sustainability management systems into these institutions to effectively and efficiently monitor their impacts on the environment. This assessment demonstrates how to create a framework and a set of indicators to measure an organization’s ecological sustainability. Two major concepts are explored the hybrid Ecological Footprint and the Natural Step’s sustainability principles BCIT’s first Ecological Footprint Assessment (EFA) demonstrates the need for centralizing this type of environmental information and making this data accessible to many different users. For BCIT to make sustainability part of its values, sustainability must be integrated into BCIT’s operations and educational mandate. 3(TN).
The hybrid Ecological Footprint
This assessment considers energy and material flow through the campus from direct energy, water, food, food packaging, staff travel, student travel, consumables, built form and green space, and solid waste. The total ecological footprint for BCIT’s Burnaby Campus is 16,590 global hectares (gha). A global hectare is defined as the unit of area that encompasses the bioproduction capacity, including waste assimilation, of ecosystems appropriated for use by BCIT operations. is derived by a combination of the component and compound economic input output methods to calculate the footprint. The component method uses Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data to derive the footprint. The compound economic input-output method is a top down approach which takes aggregated data and divvies it up into smaller pieces to calculate the footprint of each component. The TN principles are over arching indicators to include aspects that may not be accounted for in the ecological footprint, such as products that are not easily assimilated by the biosphere. The assessment was done for BCIT’s Burnaby campus for the fiscal year 2006/2007.(1)
Direct energy refers to the use of electrical and heat energy on the Burnaby campus. The assumption is that raw materials or extraction of resources should not be included in the calculation; only the energy for delivery and use of the resource in the form of KWh and GJ is considered. The total footprint of the Direct Energy component is 3,001gha. This means that one-third of the city of Burnaby would have to be covered in trees to sequester the emissions generated from the consumption of Direct Energy on the Burnaby campus. Furthermore, natural gas makes up 86% of the total footprint, even though the amount of energy consumed by natural gas is on par with the amount of electricity consumed.(2)
The footprint associated with water use is calculated based on the energy to extract the water from the reservoir or watershed and then pump it to the consumer, as well as subsequent pumping to the sewage treatment plants. The total ecological footprint for water is 2.04 gha, very small in comparison to the other components.(3)
Food & Drink
The assumption for the food and drink component considers only the energy to create the product and the transport of goods to the end user. The associated labour is not included in the calculation because this data was not readily available at the time when the study was done. The total Food and Drink ecological footprint is 4654 gha, somewhat larger than the Direct Energy footprint. The Drink portion represents the largest contributor to the Food & Drink component, on account of the embodied energy in the containers of the drinks such as glass, plastic, and aluminum bottles.(4)
Energy and matter are required to make packaging materials to ship food, and disposable tableware to serve food to customers on the Burnaby campus. The food packaging component includes the packaging material for shipment and disposable tableware. The plastic bottles, glass, and aluminum cans for beverages are accounted for in the total Food & Drink component. These containers are not separated into the food packaging calculation. The total ecological footprint for Food Packaging is 147 gha.(5)
The ecological footprint for Staff Travel consists of travel to and from work and business air travel. The assumptions are that vehicle wear and tear is not included in this calculation, nor is the energy and labour for maintenance of the roadway. Only the fuel usage of vehicles to and from the Burnaby campus and staff homes is considered. No car pooling is considered. The number of parking passes sold to staff is considered the number of staff that would drive to work regularly. The air travel considered the maintenance of the airplane and fuel usage from take-off to landing. Energy for the manufacturing of the airplane is not considered, nor is the decommissioning of the airplane. The impact of staff driving to work is estimated to be almost equal to the air travel of staff. The total ecological footprint for staff travel is 1284 gha.(6)
Student Travel is the second largest footprint component, slightly smaller than the Food & Drink footprint. A 2007 survey was conducted on student mode of travel, with asample size of 1,090. As with staff, most students drive to the Burnaby campus, which is the mode of transportation that has the biggest impact. The same assumptions aremade as for Staff Travel in calculating student travel. The total ecological footprint for Student Travel is 4446 gha.(7)
The ecological footprint for the Consumables component is calculated using the economic input-output method, since the only available data at the time this study was conducted was in monetary value. The consumables are organized into 15 categories as described by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The largest contributor to the Consumables footprint is wood products. And wood is the item purchased the most at BCIT compared to any other item. The assumptions are that the impacts of transportation of goods between sectors and the associated labour, and the use phase and end-of-life phases, are not included in the results. The total ecological footprint for Consumables is 2958 gha.(8) Built Form and Green Space For this assessment, the built form consists of buildings and parking lot spaces. The buildings are further classified into classrooms, offices, lodgings, and office/educational use. The total green space, or vegetated area, is not considered to have an environmental impact; however, the biocapacity can be calculated from the green space. The total green space for the Burnaby campus is 30.6 ha which accounts just for the physical area; the biocapacity of the green space is not considered for this study. The total ecological footprint of the built form is 95 gha.(9)
The environmental impact of solid waste comes from the actual space that waste takes in a landfill and the decomposition process. Since BCIT exported its solid waste to a Metro Vancouver landfill, this waste then became an issue for Metro Vancouver. For this assessment the boundaries are set to account for all incoming mass products, emissions generated on site, and products leaving the campus such as waste and sewage. However, the treatment of waste and sewage are considered to be outside the boundary of this study. That is why the ecological footprint for this study only accounted for the delivery of solid waste to the landfill, which is 0.34 gha.
For future assessments, the ecological footprint can be calculated for the recycled materials and compost that is generated on site. The compost generated on site is used on the surrounding vegetated landscape; hence, the compost does not leave the campus. Other indicators are generated from the same data that is collected for calculating the ecological footprint. Included in this study are the total greenhouse gas emissions generated for each of the components listed above, to provide another perspective for monitoring environmental impacts.