Ecological footprints and lifestyle archetypes: Exploring dimensions of consumption and the transformation needed to achieve urban sustainability




Topics: Resource efficiency policies for sustainable cities and lifestyles, Sustainable lifestyles and education
Keywords: Sustainable, Consumption, Ecological, Footprint, Urban, Lifestyles

Jennie Moore

British Columbia Institute of Technology, Canada;


To achieve ecological sustainability, significant and absolute reductions are needed in demand on nature’s services to yield resources and assimilate wastes. Estimates range from a factor of five to ten. This translates to an 80% to 90% reduction in energy and materials flows through the global economy. Urban sustainability literature tends to focus on the built environment as a solution space for reducing energy and material demands; however, equally important is the consumption characteristics of the people who occupy the city. While size of dwelling and motor vehicle ownership are partially influenced by urban form, they are also influenced by cultural and socio-economic characteristics. Dietary choices and purchases of consumable goods are almost entirely driven by the latter. An important question, therefore, is what dimensions of transformation are needed in various forms of urban consumption for cities to become sustainable? I use international field data that document urban ways of living to develop lifestyle archetypes. I then couple this data with ecological footprint analysis to establish consumption benchmarks in the domains of: food, buildings, consumables, transportation, and water that correspond to various levels of demand on nature’s services. I also explore the dimensions of transformation that would be needed in each of these domains for the per capita consumption patterns of urban dwellers to achieve ecological sustainability. While there is tremendous variation across the international socio-economic spectrum, on average the dimensions of transformation needed in urban consumption commensurate with global per capita ecological sustainability include: a 73% reduction in household energy use, a 96% reduction in motor vehicle ownership, a 78% reduction in per capita vehicle kilometres travelled, and a 79% reduction in air kilometres travelled.


Dr. Jennie Moore is the Associate Dean of Building Design and Construction Technology in the School of Construction and the Environment at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) located in Western Canada. She works to advance education and applied research concerned with the natural environment, the built environment, and the relationship between them. Dr. Moore has a PhD in Planning from the University of British Columbia specializing in ecological sustainability and urban systems. She is a LEED TM Accredited Professional and member of the Canadian Institute of Planners. She participated in the UBC Task Group for Planning Healthy and Sustainable Communities while the ecological footprint was being developed, and she completed her graduate studies under the supervision of Professor Emeritus William E. Rees, founder of the ecological footprint concept. Dr. Moore is a core advisor to development of the international Ecocity Standards ( and recently served as external reviewer to the World Wildlife Federation’s Living Planet Report 2014. Her work has been recognized with an award of Ecological Citizenship from the Canadian Minister of Environment (1998), Women in Energy from the Minerva Foundation (2014), and Academic Leadership in Sustainability Education from the Canada Green Building Council (2015).