It's interesting to watch the progress of the "environmental footprint" concept. We've been talking about the idea from early on, and we're hardly alone. The argument that the goal of modern environmentalism should be to reduce one's overall footprint nicely encompasses many of the core elements of new school greens, in particular a focus on systemic thinking and an emphasis on efficiency. The latest appearance of the footprint concept is at 0footprint (zero footprint), a new website combining magazine, information resource, and movement.
Based in Toronto, 0footprint describes itself as "an organization that is creating a marketplace built around a common ground for people worldwide to engage in sustainable commerce," but the market elements are a small part of what they offer. zfp Magazine offers interviews, advice and feature stories; the Zeropages section is a fairly well-developed directory of sustainability, environmental awareness, and green business sites. The least-developed section -- but the one with the greatest potential -- is the Small Ideas project, an attempt to solicit and exhibit concrete, achievable ideas to encourage environmental sustainability:
Øfootprint Criteria for Small Ideas
1. Simple: The idea should be simple to describe.
2. Reproducible: If the idea works for one instance it should be replicable to another with little or no modification.
3. Scaleable: As the idea is applied in more and more instances the relative cost of administering it should not change or should increase slowly.
4. Incentive Structure: The incentive structure should be well matched to the task. All participants should have some positive reward from participating. It should be a win-win-win situation.
5. Impact: If successful, the idea should have a very significant impact on reducing our ecological footprint and should foster sustainable commerce.
Ideas that meet all five of these criteria are not easy to come by; not surprisingly, the inventory of idea submissions contains but a single project, the Electricity Challenge, pitting different parts of an organization against each other to see which one can reduce its energy consumption the most in a given time frame.
According to the planning vision statement (PDF), the goal of 0footprint is to become a trusted filter, giving individual members access to businesses and organizations that meet the 0footprint guidelines, and giving those businesses and organizations access to potential customers who are especially interested in what they have to offer. In principle, it's a good idea, as long as 0footprint is able to demonstrate that it is able to keep out greenwashed businesses and those attempting to "game" the system. Trust is hard to come by and easy to lose; if the organization wants to be seen as a reliable arbiter, it needs to work hard to maintain that trust.
The one element that would seem an ideal part of an organization like this that seems to be missing is a way for individual members to share their experiences and ideas with each other in a relatively unmediated way. Members can contribute listings to the Zeropages and articles to zfp Magazine, but there doesn't appear to be any kind of persistent, ongoing discussion among the members, nor is there a wiki-type user-editable information base. It's an odd omission in an otherwise strong site.
Clearly, 0footprint is still young. It has a great deal of potential, however; the idea of combining a green business focus with broad information resources strikes me as a useful one. As the environmental footprint concept continues to move to the mainstream, I would expect to see 0footprint get more attention. I look forward to seeing what they do with it.
Zero footprint is similar to thinking about zero emissions, zero emissions the way W Edwards Deming thought about zero defects on a production line under total quality management.
Once we have a handle on zero footprint we have to work on positive footprints, to go from sustainability to restoration. Ecological restoration and expansion should be the goal rather than environmental sustainability.
Gary Snyder provides the image in Four Changes, circa 1969, from _Earth Household_:
Computer technicians who run the plant part of the year and walk along with the elk in their migrations during the rest....
Here's a PDF file folks can download to put the idea of "Global Footprint" in a larger perspective:
There are ways to off-set airplane travel by contributions to organizations that plant trees. Can we apply the same concept to cars? Allow people to invest in activities to mitigate their emissions? It seems there could be an appropriate for each activity -- home energy use, food consumption .... It will not get us to zero, but by making these investments we will be setting up feedback loops.