Footprints on the landscape: an environmental appraisal of urban and rural living in the developed world

Rebecca L Eaton, Geoffrey P Hammond, Jane Laurie

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Environmental or 'ecological' footprints have been widely used in recent years as partial indicators of sustainability; specifically of resource consumption and waste absorption transformed on the basis of the biologically productive land area required by a defined population. In the present study, the environmental footprints of the Borough of Swindon and the County of Wiltshire in Southern England have been evaluated and contrasted. Swindon is largely an urban area, whereas the adjacent landscape of Wiltshire is predominantly rural in nature. A mixed compound/component approach to footprint accounting was adopted. The data utilised was based on 'proxy' data extracted from national statistics, as well as local data. These calculations show that, on a per capita basis, the footprints of the two neighbouring communities studied are roughly the same: 5.65-5.94 global hectares (gha), with an estimated uncertainty of about ±11%. Consumption and pollutant emission patterns in both rural and urban communities are shown to be unsustainable, and well above the 'Earthshare' of 1.80 gha. However, the corresponding overshoot ratios for Swindon and Wiltshire were found to be 10.35:1 and only 2.01:1, respectively. The environmental burdens caused by urban and rural living in developed countries feedback onto each other. Cities and towns require resources from beyond their geographic boundaries, but rural communities also take advantage of the modern infrastructure and services typically provided in an urban setting. The notion of sustainability can only realistically be applied in a broad geophysical context, and consequently the land use planning effort might more appropriately be focussed on a regional scale. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-28
Number of pages16
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jul 2007
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2007


  • Ecology
  • Urban planning
  • Sustainable development
  • Geophysics
  • Population dynamics
  • Rural areas


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