Calculating Ecological ‘Footprints’

It’s my first few days as artist-in-residence at MEDEA. I’m thrilled to be here, and will spend the first couple weeks collecting research and trying to get a better understanding of what kind of how I can sculpt a project on visualizing ecological footprints in a way that fits within the context of Malmö. In general, my work aims to visually explains the significance of the every-day within the context of the big picture in order to engage people in their role as consumers.

As a starting point for the project I’ll do with MEDEA, I’m currently exploring the idea of ecological footprint calculators.

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Sustainability is inherently difficult to calculate. The ‘eco-ness’ of any product or service depends entirely upon it’s context. An obvious example: pineapple is a great form of nutrients in areas which it is native-ly grown, it can be a sustainable source of nutrients. In northern climates, it’s a much less sustainable food. Specifics factors like the ecosystem, modes of transportation, social welfare and  political climate of a place all factor into the larger ‘sustainability’ equation.

Therefore, footprint calculators of course serve only as estimates for part of the picture. Carbon footprint calculators, for example, can calculate a person’s activities in terms of carbon impacts – but leave out all other impacts of ecological and social sustainability.

Though interesting for comparison (How many worlds does your lifestyle need?), these calculators tend to live online: outside of the context of our daily lives. Each small daily action is endlessly tied to the larger, globalized world. – It’s these connections that continually fascinate me, and this is what I hope to communicate through the project that will emerge from this residency at MEDEA.

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There are thousands of various footprint calculators out there…here are a couple I’ve found useful:

Ecological Footprint: a calculator put out by the Center for Sustainable Economy.

Wattzon: An interesting way to calculate the energy embodied in all the ‘stuff’ you own; including the average lifespan of each object.

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