What is it about?

Environmental or ‘ecological’ footprints have been widely used as partial indicators of sustainability; specifically of resource consumption and waste absorption transformed in terms of the biologically productive land area required by a population. The environmental footprint of the Unitary Authority of Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) in the South West of England (UK) has been estimated in terms of global hectares (gha) required per capita. BANES has a population of about 184,870 and covers an area of 35,200 hectares, of which two-thirds is on ‘green belt’ land. The UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath is the principal settlement, but there are also a number of smaller urban communities scattered amongst its surrounding area (‘hinterland’ or ‘bioregion’). The overall footprint for BANES was estimated to be 3.77 gha per capita (gha/cap), which is well above its biocapacity of 0.67 gha/cap and ‘Earthshare’ of 1.80 gha per capita. Direct Energy use was found to exhibit the largest footprint component (a 31% share), followed by Materials & Waste (30%), Food & Drink (25%), Transport (10%) and Built Land (4%), whereas the Water footprint was negligibly small (~0%) by comparison. Such data provides a baseline for assessing their planning strategies for future development.

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Why is it important?

In the present study, the environmental footprint of the ‘Unitary Authority’ of Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) in the South West of England (UK) has been estimated. The area covers ~35,200 hectares (ha) and extends some 36 km east to west and 17 km north to south. Its geographical position lies between the Cotswold and Mendip Hills giving it a diverse and complex character; drained primarily by the River Avon. The current study therefore represents an example of sustainability assessment on an urban scale, together with the surrounding ‘bioregion’. A mixed ‘compound’/‘component’ approach to footprint accounting has been adopted here, where the footprint components (such as energy, transport, food, materials and waste, and water) represented broad policy-making categories . This approach has enabled the examination of the Manufactured and Natural Capital elements of the ‘four-capitals’ model of sustainability quite broadly, along with specific issues. The evidence utilised both proxy (or ‘top-down’) data extracted from national statistics, and local (or ‘bottom-up’) data provided by local organisations. Such assessments provide a valuable evidence base for developers, policy makers, and other stakeholders across the world. Finally, the uncertainties and deficiencies of using environmental footprints (and related parameters) as sustainability indicators are examined, including problems of urban and rural boundary definitions, data gathering, and the basis for weighing the various consumption and associated impacts.


Here a mixed ‘compound’/‘component’ EFA has provided a footprint that is based around activities that can be directly related to the material inputs and waste outputs linked to specific communities. Each footprint component represents a broad policy category that can be analysed separately. It is important, however, to take into account the associated uncertainties of each footprint when putting the results in practice. Improved local footprint calculations could be achieved by obtaining comprehensive local statistics. The accessibility of local data is, on the whole, improving and local and central government authorities are beginning to recognise the need for such information. In an ideal world, the aim would be to move consumption and pollution patterns from those associated with ‘linear metabolism’ (resources in, emissions/wastes out) to a ‘circular’ one in which much greater efforts are made to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover’. The application of footprint data of the type estimated here, but on a year-on-year basis, would assist the BANES Council (and similar local authorities) in monitoring the achievement of many of the climate change, environmental and sustainability components of their evolving community strategy.

Professor Emeritus Geoffrey P Hammond
University of Bath

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This page is a summary of: Environmental footprint analysis of an urban community and its surrounding bioregion, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Urban Design and Planning, February 2022, ICE Publishing, DOI: 10.1680/jurdp.21.00002.
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