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Know your impacts

We’ve all been told a thousand times that we should be ‘turning off the lights’, ‘have shorter showers’, ‘walk to the shops’ and ‘buy local food’. But is having a shorter shower really the best way to save water? Will it actually make a difference if you religiously turn off all your lights all the time? And what about local food, is it really better for the environment than the stuff you buy at the supermarket?

Know Your Impacts is a campaign aimed at discovering and sharing insights into the environmental impacts of everyday activities and promoting sustainable alternatives.

The latest news on this campaign

    Do you know your impacts?

    It is very hard to find out what impacts you are having on the environment. Chances are however that your showers would not feature all that high in a list of your impacts. Consider for example that it takes around 15,500 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef and almost 25,000 litres to produce a kilogram of cotton. By comparison you would use 28,105 litres of water if you had a 7 minute shower everyday for a year (with a water saving shower head).

    Of course there are many issues with making such comparisons. For example, the fact that showers use drinking waters and agriculture does not. But this example does highlight that our indirect impacts (the impacts of the products we buy) are just as important as our direct impacts (how far we drive or how much electricity we use).

    The Australian Conservation Foundation has created an online Consumption Atlas that provides an insight into the impacts different areas of our lives can make. The three graphs below show the origins of the carbon emissions, water and land use for the Sunshine Coast (part of the Moreton Region in the Atlas).

    17,540 kg CO2e per year or 48.0 kg CO2e a day

     

    651,429 litres of water per year or 1,785 a day

     

    63,500 square meters of land per year or 174.0 square meters a day

     

    Another difficulty in working out the best way to reduce your impacts is that a product that is good in one area may not be so great in another. For example many people buy cotton clothes because cotton is a natural fibre that is biodegradable unlike oil derived synthetics such as polyester. But cotton is a very water intensive crop and accounts for around 16% of the world pesticide use (even though it accounts for only 4% of the global agricultural crop). Cotton also uses much more energy during wear and care than polyester shirts. In fact washing, drying and ironing accounts for almost 60% of the energy used during the lifecycle of a cotton shirt.

    All these complications make it very difficult to work out what you should be doing to try and reduce your impacts on the environment. The purpose of our Know Your Impacts campaign is to simplify this process by providing information on the relative impacts of different products that will help people identify ways in which they can and are willing to make a difference.

    To find out more about the impacts in a particular area check out the sections below.

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