The Ecological Footprint of cities is the subject of a debate at the São Paulo University -USP
By Geralda Magela
From São Paulo
The study of the Ecological footprint of the city de Campo Grande capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul jointly presented by WWF-Brazil and the city authorities last MMMMM is opening up a new range of discussions involving the academic sector and institutions that work with companies and corporations. On April 13 the experience was presented at the Faculty of Economics, Administration and Accounting at the University of São Paulo (FEAUSP).
The event was organised by the head of the faculty, Professor Ricardo Abramovy, and among the participants were professors and researchers, students and institutions whose activities are directed at the corporate sector.
The Campo Grande Ecological footprint study was undertaken by WWF-Brazil in collaboration with the Municipal Authority of that city, the Global Footprint Network (GFN), the ecosSISTEMAS social company and the Anhanguera University. The aim was to make an analysis of the consumer habits of the city’s population in order to calculate the size of the city’s Ecological footprint and then use the results as a tool for environmental mobilisation and environmental management.
The survey was presented for discussion at the FEAUSP by WWF-Brazil’s Pantanal-Cerrado Programme coordinator Michael Becker, by ecosSISTEMAS director Fabrício de Campos and by the Secretary for the Environment and Urban Development of the Campo Grande city authority, Marcos Cristaldo.
The main debaters were Professors José Eli da Veiga and Ricardo Abramovay from the Socio-environmental Economics Nucleus (NESA) of the Department of Economics at the FEA-USP; Ignacy Sachs, Emeritus Professor of the Paris School of Higher Social Science Studies; and Paulo Itacarambi, of the Ethos Institute.
Ecological footprint – The ecological footprint is an environmental accounting methodology that assesses existing consumption on the one hand, and the capacity of natural resources available on the planet on the other. The calculation has already been made for some countries and is now beginning to be applied in some of the world’s cities, In Brazil, Campo Grande is the first city to make this calculation.
The study evaluated the consumer habits of the Campo Grande population and came up with an ecological footprint figure of 3.14 global hectares per person. The results revealed that the greatest consumption is related to food, which accounts for 45% of the footprint, and the most outstanding item there was meat consumption.
During the presentation, the Secretary for the Environment and Urban Development of the Campo Grande city authority, Marcos Cristaldo stated that the study results had clearly revealed a lot of aspects of the city’s consumption that were previously unknown and that some of them had even caused surprise. The pattern of electricity consumption well above the national average was one such surprise and the level of meat consumption was another. “With this data in hand we can do better planning and orientate our public policies towards actions that will help to reduce impacts in those areas”, he explained.
Michael Becker pointed out that the calculation of Campo Grande’s Footprint represented an important step forward. “To us, the ecological footprint is an aggregating element, an environmental management tool. It serves as a parameter to enable discussion of mitigation strategies that need to be adopted in order to reduce impacts”, he said.
Becker added there was still much to be done. “We have to put forward strategies and implement them so that the next time we measure the footprint we will be able to see whether there have been any changes or not, and whether impacts have indeed been reduced”, he stressed.
In his view the fact that Campo Grande has a similar profile to many other Brazilian cities means that it can serve as a model.
Ecological footprint potential – After the study had been presented, a discussion began of the potential use of the ecological footprint as an indicator of sustainability, a management tool for public administration, an instrument for mobilizing civil society and as a guideline for the performance of sustainable companies and production chains.
Professor Ricardo Abramovay praised the ground-breaking nature of the study undertaken in Campo Grande. In his view, high levels of consumption are leading the world down the “road to suicide”, and to avoid that happening, it is vital to obtain more knowledge and diagnose the situation. “I attribute great importance to this initiative. We are very much open to participating in process of mobilization so that we can face up to the problem”, he declared.
The involvement of the academic sector is another important step in the process not only in dedicating research to the issue but also in conducting studies of this type that can be extended to other cities.
One possibility for FEAUSP collaboration with this kind of work is opening up a research area for faculty students on the theme of ecological footprint “Doing its environmental accounting is a great challenge for the economy”, stated Abramovay.
Professor José Eli da Veiga also considered the Campo Grande Ecological footprint work to be highly positive but felt that a better understanding was needed of the calculation and some of the concepts used in the methodology. “The study can serve as starting point to broaden the discussions. It will undoubtedly attract the interest of students and stimulate their wish to be part of this work”, he declared.
Ignacy Sachs, Emeritus Professor of the Paris School of Higher Social Science Studies said that the ecological footprint is a new concept that is doing an important service but more profound studies of the tool are needed to verify its potential and its limitations and how its underlying concept fits in with others. “That is a perfect challenge for a university to meet”, he added.
EcosSistemas director Fabrício Campos, responsible for the data analysis and for the application of the methodology said that the academic sector’s contribution was essential for improving the work. “The ecological footprint is not a static tool. It needs to be constantly adjusted and the debate in the academic sphere helps to improve it more and more”, he declared.
Corporate participation – Another important sector for any Ecological footprint work is the corporate sector. Paulo Itacarambi, of the Ethos Institute felt that companies could use the ecological footprint concept to mobilise society and orientate their production chains. In his view, one way for them to contribute would be in the form of innovations. “Companies could invest in technology designed to enhance bio-capacity and also to reduce consumption levels”, he stressed.
In his opinion, another contribution that companies could make would be in influencing public policies, putting forward proposals and pressuring government to do its share as well.