Top Ten of the average consumer’s environmental footprint (February 2018 version)

Studio Babette Porcelijn and Think Big Act Now have written a book informing consumers and policy-makers about the direct and indirect environmental impact of our everyday lives. The book, in an accessible style and amply illustrated, is entitled ‘De Verborgen Impact’ [The Hidden Impact] and was launched in May 2016.

CE Delft supported this project by drawing up a ‘Top Ten’ for the environmental footprint of the annual consumption of an average Dutch citizen. In October 2017 Babette presented an updated version of her book, for which CE Delft improved calculations of the Top Ten and calculated the share of ICT use in the category ‘Stuff’ (incl. data traffic) and the footprint of toiletries use. While this makes the calculations more accurate than the original 2016 version, the results remain basically unchanged. At the same time they provide no more than a rough indication, being based partly on estimates and assumptions.

In doing the sums on the Top Ten we consider both the visible impact (power consumption, food consumption) and the ‘hidden’ impact (energy use during production, product transport) and activities over which consumers have influence (like air travel) as well as those over which they do not (housing construction, road-building, food wastage in the supply chain).

Among the most interesting results of our analysis is that the purchase of consumer goods (in this study: ‘stuff’) and meat consumption have a significantly greater environmental impact than the other categories. This will probably come as a surprise to many. The experience of CE Delft’s Raw Material Chains sector is that the first things that come to mind when people are asked about their environmental footprint are energy consumption, transportation and sometimes waste and packaging, with the major impacts of food (particularly meat), consumer products and materials (for homes and roads, among other things) and clothing are virtually unknown.

In this report the calculations behind these results are described in greater detail.

The Environmental Footprint Top Ten of the average consumer can be found in the (Dutch-language) book De Verborgen Impact van Babette Porcelijn.