Why does One Planet Living want us to live like Europeans?

All you shopaholics listen up: Excessive consumption is sucking our planet's resources dry.
All you shopaholics listen up: Excessive consumption is sucking our planet's resources dry.
Jamie Grill/Iconica/Getty Images

Take a brief tour of your home and chances are good -- especially if you live in a developed nation -- that you have a fair portion of stuff that you don't use or need. The problem is we're starting to run out of the materials that make up that stuff, and unless we change our habits on a global level, there might not be anything left.

That's where One Planet Living comes in. This project is a registered trademark, jointly owned by the British nonprofit organization BioRegional Development Group and the well-known foundation called WWF International. One Planet Living has 10 guiding principles, and its overall goal is to develop sustainable consumption habits for everyone to follow.


The basis for One Planet Living is rooted in the idea that locally producing and managing resources in a sustainable manner is key to preserving our natural environment. To this end, BioRegional and WWF International are researching and promoting a variety of environmentally conscious plans, educational efforts, business models and public policy approaches.

­We're consuming our natural reserves -- some of which are irreplaceable -- way too fast. According to BioRegional, if everyone on Earth modeled the North American lifestyle, humankind would need the biocapacity of about five planets to maintain our way of life. Biocapacity refers to the way we can measure how much the environment can produce and how much it can absorb as waste. Europeans do a little better but still not great -- if everyone followed Europe's example, we'd need three Earths to get by. So the hard truth remains that we have only one planet to share among every living creature.

Does One Planet Living want us to return to the way our ancestors lived -- hunting, gathering and living off the land -- all without air conditioning? On the next page, we'll examine why we should lighten our ecological footstep and the principles needed to help us accomplish this goal.­


Find out what your ecological footprint is by accessing the One Planet Calculator and Action Plan.
Find out what your ecological footprint is by accessing the One Planet Calculator and Action Plan.
Dougal Waters/Photodisc/Getty Images

Technically, One Planet Living doesn't want North Americans -- or anyone else -- to completely model European lifestyles (since Europeans do their fair share of environmental consumption). However, the European Union is pioneering several initiatives for sustainable living that the rest of the world is now paying close attention to. There are 10 areas in which the One Planet Living plan calls for us to clean up our act.

  1. Zero carbon: The first guiding principle is to create a net amount of zero carbon emissions. We can lower carbon emissions by designing energy-efficient buildings and other infrastructures and using local renewable energy sources to power these structures. Purchasing energy-efficient appliances can help lower carbon emissions too. In order to bring net carbon output to zero, people can purchase carbon offsets, which you can learn more about in How Carbon Offsets Work.
  2. Zero waste: This item emphasizes eliminating the waste stream (like your weekly trips to the trash) to landfills and incinerators. Reducing trash production, increasing recycling and composting, and harnessing the waste disposal process as an energy source will all help achieve zero waste.
  3. Sustainable transport: The transportation systems of the One Planet Living plan focus on decreasing our use of gas-guzzling vehicles in favor of clean-burning fuel methods that cause less pollution. Using alternative methods of transportation also help decrease pollution and road congestion. In addition, promoting telecommuting and videoconferencing for office workers can cut down on transportation's environmental impact.
  4. Local and sustainable materials: The fourth principle calls for a greater use of local and reclaimed materials. This would decrease shipping costs and shipping-related pollution while providing greater support to local economies (among other things).
  1. Local and sustainable food: Ideally, food supplies should be grown locally in a carefully managed manner that doesn't have a harmful impact on the environment. Keeping the process local could reduce the impact of the methods and materials we use for packaging, processing, and disposing products. The security and quality of food could be better managed as the local products travel a shorter distance and pass between fewer hands. Shipping costs would be lowered and there would less damage to the environment.
  2. Sustainable water: Polluted water sources and disruptions in the water cycle lead to water shortages, droughts and desertification. Items in this category are aimed at increasing proper water treatment and conservation practices while decreasing water pollution and restoring natural water supplies.
  3. Natural habitats and wildlife: This principle falls into two categories: protect existing natural habitats and generate new ones. This would help put the breaks on environmental degradation and species extinction.
  4. Culture and heritage: This focus falls on decreasing the homogenizing effects of globalization by celebrating and preserving local customs and traditions. Regional cultures would be encouraged to thrive, potentially fusing with the new viewpoints and practices regarding sustainability.
  5. Equity and fair trade: This principle seeks a better economic balance among the citizens of the world. Trade practices would emphasize elements such as open and fair trading relationships, better working conditions and more stable livelihoods for people everywhere.
  6. Health and happiness: This principle looks to encourage physical well-being through the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Physical, mental and spiritual health would be targeted through community measures and other institutions.

­Whew! While you might not see One Planet Living's top 10 list featured on any late-night talk shows, it does describe the core basics of how the plan works. Let's examine some of the ways these principles are being put into action on the next page.

An artist's rendering of the new, eco-friendly Aquatic Centre. The One Planet Living principles were a fundamental part of the bidding and planning process for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
An artist's rendering of the new, eco-friendly Aquatic Centre. The One Planet Living principles were a fundamental part of the bidding and planning process for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
London 2012/Handout/Getty Images

The folks involved in the One Planet Living agenda are approaching the issues from a number of real-world outlets. Here are a few examples:

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics

­W­hen the Olympic torch rekindles man's love of sport in the summer of 2012, it will also be shining a light on the One Planet Living project. The 10 principles (previously discussed) have been integral parts of the planning process for the Olympics' third appearance in London.

Many of the buildings and infrastructures constructed for the Olympics -- and as a legacy for later use -- will be energy- and water-efficient, with zero-waste management systems and accessibility to alternate modes of transportation. They'll be made with local, reclaimed and recycled materials. The food served at the games will be locally grown and later integrated into the composting disposal loop. Public information campaigns will be a big part of the games to raise awareness about sustainable planning. Also, organizers are working to make these Olympics affordable and accommodating for all to attend, as a result of focusing on equity issues.


This eco-friendly village was created to have a minor ecological impact. The project, located in Wallington, South London, has an embracing, community feel and was designed to emit no carbon and reduce energy and water consumption. BedZED lessens some of the need for space heating and driving with its green transport plan and renewable energy initiatives. More than three tons of the material used in its construction -- about 15 percent -- were reclaimed or recycled products; 52 percent of the materials originated within 35 miles of the development [source: BioRegional].

The project features 100 homes, various work spaces and additional facilities. It's subject to ongoing study -- monitoring its functionality as well as interviewing people living and working there -- in order to determine and improve BedZED's ecological impact. The BioRegional Development Group began the eco-village project and developed it in partnership with the Peabody Trust and Bill Dunster Architects. Residents began moving in during March of 2002. A two-bedroom BedZED home is currently selling for about $463,000 (240,000 pounds).

BioRegional Charcoal Company Ltd

One of BioRegional's longest running projects involves the local manufacture of charcoal. BioRegional Charcoal Company Ltd (BRCC) is an independent company that follows the One Planet Living principles. More than 90 percent of the charcoal used in the U.K. was once imported, coming from unsustainably managed sources [source: BRCC].

The company has created a network of local charcoal producers who follow responsible forest management techniques as according to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC is an international organization that has developed a certification and labeling system to identify environmentally conscious forest products. BRCC then supplies their products to national retailers -- choosing the store closest in proximity for each sale. BRCC estimates this local distribution reduces the amount of carbon generated during charcoal transportation by 85 percent and boosts local economies.

Managing forests by a method known as coppicing fell out of favor in the last few decades by some countries, but has been practiced in the U.K. for millennia. The process involves letting the stumps of felled, harvested trees regrow with young offshoots. Coppicing provides a secure, stable habitat for now-dwindling wildlife populations, such as certain butterfly species, by helping preserve woodlands with this cyclical method of forestry management. The economic incentive of charcoal sales could help spur the forestry market.

Now that you've seen One Planet Living in action, go to the next page for links about sustainable living and to determine the depth of your ecological footprints.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Bioregional Charcoal Company Ltd.." BioRegional. 3/11/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • "BedZED & Eco-Village Development Facts and Statistics." BioRegional. 1/14/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • "BedZED Monitoring Data." BioRegional. 1/14/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • "Coppicing." Great Britain Forestry Commission. (6/13/2008)
  • "European Union." The CIA World Factbook. 6/10/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • "FAQ." Forest Stewardship Council. (6/20/2008)
  • "Guiding Principles of One Planet Living." BioRegional. 4/28/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • "Footprint Term Glossary." Global Footprint Network. 8/27/2007. (6/13/2008)
  • "Frequently Asked Questions: What do the initials WWF stand for?" WWF. 2/24/2005. (6/13/2008)
  • Joint, Laura. "Refuge for rare butterfly." BBC. 2/22/2008. (6/13/2008) feature.shtml
  • Kirby, Alex. "Green charcoal gives butterflies a lift." BBC. 6/8/2008. (6/13/2008)
  • Kivner, Mary. "London's 'One Planet Olympics' vision" BBC. 10/24/2005. (6/13/2008)
  • "One Planet Living." WWF International and BioRegional. 2008. (6/13/2008)
  • Shor, Juliet. "We must reduce super-sized appetites." American Public Media: Marketplace. 11/13/2007. (6/13/2008)
  • "Towards a One Planet Olympics." One Planet Living. 11/2007. (6/13/2008)
  • "­The United States." The CIA World Factbook. 6/10/2008. (6/13/2008)