chapter  11
26 Pages

Built Environment and Human Behaviour Challenges to Sustainable Consumption: A Gap Analysis


Since the middle of the twentieth century, there has been a ‘great acceleration’ in the rate at which growth has occurred-exponentially-across a wide range of demographic, environmental and economic dimensions. These include growth in population; cities (and their infrastructure); housing (and its Trojan Horse of fittings, furnishings and appliances); mobility (automobiles, travel); emissions to land, water and air (in particular, greenhouse gases); farm outputs (including inputs of fertiliser and pesticides); finance industry (foreign investment, indebtedness); and consumption of water, energy and natural resources. Waste generation rates mirror the consumption trend (for more detail on the great acceleration, see IGBP, 2015). The environmental repercussions of living in a finite world are the focus of a growing body of research attempting to understand the extent to which it will be possible to live within the known planetary boundaries of the biosphere (e.g. atmosphere, oceans, freshwater) given likely trajectories of future growth and development (Rockstrom and Klum, 2012; Steffen et al. , 2015). Complementary research pioneered by Wackernagel and Rees (outlined in Wackernagel et al. , 2006) and implemented in a succession of World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Reports (e.g. WWF, 2014) has used the ecological footprint (EF) metric to measure the impacts of human activity on the environment. The EF-of a country, region or city-is a composite index that represents the amount of land and water (in global hectares on the planet) required to produce the energy, food and material products consumed by the built environments of human settlements and their resident populations, and to absorb the associated waste flows. According to WWF (2014), the global EF in 2010 was 18 billion gha (2.6 gha per capita), whereas the earth’s total biocapacity was 12 billion global hectares (gha) (1.7 gha per capita). In other words, global consumption is using 50 per cent more natural resources than the planet can regenerate . Australia’s EF is 6.25 gha per person, and its capital cities all have EFs of approximately equivalent size (Turner and Foran, 2008). This means that Australia is consuming three times its fair share of the planet’s natural resources.