WWF-Brazil’s tireless efforts to champion the Ecological Footprint as a powerful environmental mobilization and communications tool has helped fuel a national dialogue on sustainability and resource consumption in even this biocapacity-wealthy nation. WWF-Brazil’s Conservation Analyst Terezinha Martins and Communications Analyst Geralda Magela da Silva discuss how the Ecological Footprint has gained traction, particularly through the organization’s work with the city of Campo Grande.
|Geralda Magela da Silva
Q: Earth Overshoot Day 2013 received incredible media coverage in Brazil. Why do you think Overshoot Day and the Ecological Footprint resonates with Brazilians?
Even with Brazil’s great biodiversity, which makes it an ecological creditor, our Ecological Footprint has grown dramatically in recent years — indeed, if everyone lived like the typical Brazilian, it would take 1.7 planets to support the global population. Overshoot Day conveys the message that we need to rethink our current consumption trends, which are leading to the depletion of our natural resources and, consequently, jeopardizing the lives of our and future generations.
In the past 30 years we have changed from a rural to an urban country, and the resource demands of people in cities is rising. The middle class in Brazil is also increasing its consumption. So we can’t talk about environmental conservation without involving people living in cities. The Ecological Footprint shows the link between conservation and cities’ consumption in a way people can understand. It’s a powerful message when we say, “We’re in the red, like a bank account! We are spending more than we have!”
After using Global Footprint Network’s individual Ecological Footprint calculator, people understand the relationship between conservation and their lives. It’s a very different concept than conservation of the Amazon or Pantanal, for example — faraway, isolated bodies of land which people don’t understand as part of their lives. Yet everything comes from nature. The Ecological Footprint helps people understand that everything they use in their lives comes from these resources.
Q: Describe the scope of WWF-Brazil’s Ecological Footprint work.
WWF Brazil has been working with the Ecological Footprint for about 8 years as an education and communication tool. In the cities, we also participate in WWF´s annual Earth Hour campaign, the last Saturday of March when people around the world turn off lights for one hour to show their concern about climate change.
Three years ago, while designing the five-year Ecoregional Action Plan (EAP) of the Cerrado Pantanal Programme, we decided to include an Ecological Footprint study of Campo Grande (the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Brazilian state where the Pantanal wetland is located). This was the first time a Brazilian city had ever calculated its Footprint.
WWF-Brazil’s Campo Grande strategy included three steps: 1) measure Campo Grande’s Ecological Footprint, 2) mobilize stakeholders to take action with the data and 3) design a mitigation plan to help reduce the city’s Footprint. WWF-Brazil partnered with the Campo Grande Municipal Authority, Global Footprint Network and Anhanguera University - Uniderp. The report was published in 2012. Soon other cities became interested in calculating their Footprint. WWF-Brazil’s Conservation Director Michael Becker was invited to present the Campo Grande study at the Economic College of the University of São Paulo, the most important economic university in São Paulo. Then WWF Brazil partnered with the state government and municipality of São Paulo to coordinate the Ecological Footprint of the state and the city of São Paulo. This second study was launched at Rio+20 in June 2012.
Both Footprint studies were coordinated by Michael Becker and undertaken with Global Footprint Network and EcoSISTEMAS, a Brazilian partner of Global Footprint Network. The Economic Research Institute Foundation (FIPE) also contributed to the São Paulo report.
Q: In May 2012 WWF-Brazil received the Campo Grande Municipal Council’s Ecology and Environmentalism Award for its Campo Grand Ecological Footprint calculation. Tell us some highlights of the second phase, mobilization.
When we launched the Campo Grande report, we knew that its data was very important but not enough. Mobilization and mitigation work is necessary with different city sectors. When people feel part of the process they change their behaviors and influence others to do the same. We believe this “participative process” makes a project more sustainable. That is why we created the Campo Grande Ecological Footprint Management Committee, made up of representatives from WWF-Brazil, the Municipal Education Department, two local universities, and a few other NGOs and institutions.
In the past two years over 500 teachers (45 percent of the municipal educators) were trained in how to use the Ecological Footprint tool. The Footprint is also included in a teachers’ extension course on Sustainable Schools created by the Ministry of Education. The Footprint has also been presented at two Sustainable Solutions Exhibitions held in Campo Grande, as well as the 8th Brazilian Environmental Education Forum held in Salvador, Bahia.
At environment fairs, the Committee shares Global Footprint Network’s individual Ecological Footprint calculator webpage so people can learn how to reduce their Footprint. People love it!
Another important result is the implementation of the Sustainable Schools project in the Education Ministry’s Municipal Schools Network. The project aims to stimulate existing schools to carry out improvements to make them more sustainable. WWF-Brazil supports 11 sustainable schools which elect what they want to do to consume better and reduce waste. They implement green technologies such as rainwater collection that reduces water consumption and costs less money, or activities for students, such as cultivating vegetables for school lunches.
Finally, there’s a proposal with the Council Chamber of Campo Grande to include the Footprint in Campo Grande Municipality Law so that public policies can be planned with the Footprint as a permanent sustainable indicator for the city.
Q: What’s next on the horizon for WWF-Brazil’s Footprint work?
Two new studies are ongoing in Rio Branco, Acre (in the Amazon region) and Natal, Rio Grande do Norte (in northeast Brazil). We’d like all public schools to take part in the sustainable schools project, and use it as a model to spread to other cities.
The Ecological Footprint is a very important tool for promoting discussion between governments and the private sector of how to form more responsible consumers in a country in which more and more people have access to goods and services they previously did not.
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