Sizing up Leeds’ Ecological Footprint

The reality of Leeds’ impact on the environment and how you can make a positive difference today. Now, more than ever it is extremely important to be aware of your ecological footprint.


Time to read something horrifying. If everyone in the world consumed resources at the same level as the UK, we would need three planets to support us. Our ecological footprint is the amount of environment needed to produce goods necessary to support our lifestyles. Often a place uses more resources than its land can sustain, therefore, the ecological footprint takes into account how much land we really need to produce all the resources we use. The size of our ecological footprint depends on many factors. For example, our food, clothes, and meat that we consume; and how much gas and electric we use. Whilst some of us may be tempted to ridicule vegans, they are essentially saving our world as most of us tuck into our Nando’s.  

Should we care?

Currently, in the UK the average ecological footprint of a person is 5.6 global hectares (gha) per year/per person (pppy), yet the sustainable level is 1.8 gha pppy. This is three times what is sustainable. One hectare is equivalent to 10,000 square metres. To put it into perspective one hectare is around the size of one rugby field. Leeds has an average Ecological Footprint of 5.99 gha pppy (sourced information from LCC.) The population of Leeds is around 800,000 therefore, 4,792,000 rugby fields would be needed to sustain the amount of resources the city uses. Leeds is using up the planets resources at an alarming rate; as early as 2020 our demand for crude oil threatens to exceed our supply. Our lifestyle affects the whole world. Our consumption of palm oil is degrading the forests in Indonesia. Whilst our greenhouse gas emissions continue to melt the Antarctic ice sheet at an extremely fast rate, which has tripled in the last decade and continues to increase exponentially. 

id you know that Leeds has higher levels of air pollution than London? The large amount of greenhouse gases released by human activities in Leeds (mainly car users) is far more than ecosystems can absorb and a large contributor to climate change – this is the greatest threat to biodiversity and humanity in our lifetime.  Poor air quality is fatal to our health. We are exposed to the threat of asthma, breathing problems and lung diseases. It is estimated that air pollution leads to 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK. If action is not taken immediately, the next generation will suffer from our poor choices even more.

The First World is Destroying the Third World

Ironically, in the next few decades, least developed populations with the lowest CO2 emissions will face the most dire consequences of human-inflicted climate change. Developed countries generally have a higher footprint than less developed countries. The developing countries are suffering from climate change due to the developed countries over consuming resources. Is this right?

Finally… Some Good News 

Leeds does have something to celebrate. The Sustainable Cities Index (2016) places Leeds 6th in the UK and 38th in the world. London is placed 1st in the UK and Zürich is 1st in the world. The city’s determination to reduce Leeds’ ecological footprint is seen through the quality of sustainable projects. In some ways, Leeds is successfully sustainable due to strategies such as The Cycle Superhighway which runs between Leeds and Bradford. Since it opened in 2016, half a million journeys have been made. Yes, people are finally beginning to embrace helmet hair. Another accomplishment is Wellington Place office space in the city centre. The development enhances sustainable urban life by offering garden allotments, free bike hire and tree planting schemes. Leeds City Council can proudly say that they have the largest fleet of electrical vehicles in the country. 

A Sustainable Future 

It’s time to work towards a sustainable future. Leeds has been chosen by the government to be made into a Clean Air Zone by 2020, after it was identified that Leeds would be likely to fail legal air quality levels. The Clean Air Zone proposes a charge of £50 a day for buses, coaches and HGVs. Whilst taxis will pay £12.50. In theory, this should deter commuters from using their cars and encourage the use of public transport and cycling. To achieve a lower ecological footprint we must take action individually. By purchasing the eco friendly app “A Real Tree” which simulates a real live tree on your screen; you will contribute a percentage of money to reforestation of different quantities. You could also purchase a rain barrel and reuse the rain collected to water your plants. Begin your sustainable journey today by using the WWF Footprint Calculator. It’s up to us to protect our world. 

Three Shocking Facts:

1. The cities in the world take up only 2% of the Earth’s surface but consume 75% of resources. 

2. Leeds has the joint 10th highest level of pollution in the country.

3. In less than two hours, the waste we produce in the UK, would fill the Albert Hall, every eight months it would fill Lake Windermere, the largest (14.73 km²) and deepest (67mts) lake in England.

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