Spoiler Alert: This article features a new challenge to help you start the year with positive change. Why? We’ll tell you right away.

What is an ecological footprint?

The ecological footprint is an environmental sustainability indicator that measures the impact of human activity on the planet. Put simply, it measures the quantity of resources needed to sustain people and the economy, both in terms of production, consumption, and the waste these activities produce. The unit of measure is a global hectare (gha), that represents the global production and assimilation of waste provided by one hectare of productive land and water, each year.

To avoid exhausting the planet’s resources, the ecological footprint should be equal to or less to the bio-capacity of the planet, ergo, the ability to regenerate its natural resources. But that’s not always what happens.

In 2022, the per capita ecological footprint of Portugal was 4.55 gha, while the per capita bio-capacity was just 1.29 gha. In other words, consumption of natural resources was much higher than its regeneration capacity.

And speaking of ecological footprint, it’s inevitable to bring up the Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity depletes the natural resources which should last for an entire year. In 2023, Portugal’s Overshoot Day took place on May 7th, exactly the same day as 2022.

In 2022, the ecological footprint of each person on the planet was 2.78 gha, and the Earth's Overshoot Day happened on July 28th (two days earlier than the previous year), meaning that humanity "used up" 1.75 planets-worth of resources to support our current lifestyle.

Each person can do their part to reduce their ecological footprint and contribute to a more sustainable planet. Are you up for the challenge?

12 New Year’s resolutions to reduce the ecological footprint

In this new year, we bring you 12 resolutions, one per month, to work on every day and start reducing your ecological footprint.

Illustration of man and woman cooking.
  1. January: A new way of eating

Food is one of the main drivers of ecological footprint. In fact, in Europe, food consumption represents somewhere from 10 to 30 percent of the total ecological footprint. Our food traditions still rely heavily on meat and fish, but change is the way to move forward.

A portion of meat or fish is equivalent to 150 grams and a portion or unit of fruit or vegetables is equivalent to 80 grams. The World Health Organization recommends the consumption of just two portions of red meat and three portions of white meat - per week. As for fruit and vegetables, that’s another story: recommended consumption is of three to five portions a day!

Accept the challenge of eating more vegetables, more fruits, more pulses, fewer processed foods, less meat and fish, less sugar and less fat – valuable principles of the Mediterranean diet. Why not choose a day of the week to practice a vegetarian or even a vegan diet? Besides boosting your creativity in the kitchen, you will also lower indirect emission of greenhouse gases and, consequently, reduce your ecological footprint.

Illustration of woman controlling a floor lamp with a tablet.
  1. February: Revisit energy efficiency at home

This February, the challenge is to turn your attention to the inside of your home. Did you know LED lamps save up to 80% of energy? And they are also much more durable than incandescent and fluorescent lamps. It is possible to save money just by looking at the energy efficiency labels on the appliances we use. These days, efficiency grades go from A to G, with A being the most efficient and G being the least. Choose the A rating to save on the electricity bill and reduce that appliance’s ecological footprint. Learn 7 ways to save energy and money, painlessly.

  1. March: Buy clothes consciously

With spring coming, there’s a desire to renovate your closet, but is it really necessary? The fast fashion motto – buy, use, throw away – is the opposite of sustainability, which encourages people to buy, use, use again, use some more, repair, reuse, donate, and circulate.

Illustration of woman packing clothes.

So, in March, take a long look at your closet. See what clothes you no longer wear and can donate, check which pieces can be repaired and which really need replacing. In case you must buy new clothes, choose quality pieces, with natural, more durable, fibres. And maybe consider second-hand solutions.

Clothes with natural fibres, such as cotton, have less polyester and other plastics. As a result, they do not pollute water with microplastics during washes. Here’s a tip to reduce the ecological footprint… with style.

Illustration of man riding a bike.
  1. April: A new way to move about

When talking about carbon emissions and resource consumption, it is essential to address transportation. From April onwards, take more public transports – bus, metro, tram, and train – and as the warmer weather approaches, choose to ride a bike, a scooter, or an electric scooter. Walk whenever the distance allows it. The planet, your wallet and your health will surely thank you.

Illustration of woman watering a plant by the window.
  1. May: Plant aromatic herbs

April showers bring May and its flowers. And at this time of regeneration, how about making a herb garden at home? Planting aromatic herbs is simpler than you think, whether you have a backyard, balcony or just a windowsill. Have you ever imagined seasoning your cooking with fresh basil or parsley, home planted and grown? It is an opportunity to connect with nature, have more sustainable meals and fill the house with delicious aromas.

Illustration of a woman holding a drop of water that is falling from a tap.
  1. June: Save water at home

Right after the World Environment Day, the first days of warm weather bring a higher use of water – and an important reminder to save it. By “saving water” we mean water to wash clothes and dishes, bathe, flush or do household dishes; not drinking water – stay hydrated and drink tap water (which reduces plastic consumption!).

Also, consider placing a container outside to collect rainwater. You can also have a bucket or a basin inside the shower to collect the water that runs while you wait for it to heat up. This water can be used for plants, or even to wash your car.

Illustration of two persons with a large suitcase, taking a picture.
  1. July: Alternative vacation

Did you know that, of all means of transport, planes emit the most carbon and greenhouse gases? Flying is OK on long journeys, since take-offs and landings are the moments that generate the most pollutants and waste more fuel. For short trips, consider taking the train, the ferry, the bus or even a car.

Whether you spend your summer holidays in your own country or travel abroad, keep making conscious choices, such as visiting places on foot or using public transportation. Do not pollute, recycle, prioritise reusable items, and consume local products to help local commerce.

Illustration of man with a full shopping cart.
  1. August: Question your purchases

In August, take a break from beaches and tanning, and start questioning where your food comes from. It is vital to buy local products, but do you know if the chocolate you buy contains cocoa from sustainable cocoa farming? Or what steps are involved in sustainable palm oil production? Knowing the origin of your food is very important, as well as prioritising sustainability or fair-trade certifications; these are ways to help local and developing country producers and traders and, of course, the environment. Next time you go to the supermarket, pay attention to this information. You can reduce your ecological footprint bite by bite (ha!).

Illustration of man installing solar panel.
  1. September: Bet on renewable energy

If you’re thinking about using renewable energy at home, September is the month to get it done. Installing solar panels is not as difficult as it once was, and there are self-consumption photovoltaic kits that can save a few hundred euros a year on the electricity bill. If you so happen to have a river or watercourse nearby, you can take advantage of water power; and you can certainly use biomass energy to heat the house in winter time. Investments that are worth it from the start.

Illustration of man carrying a recycling bag.
  1. October: Recycle more and better

Most changes begin inside… both of ourselves and of our homes. A gesture as simple as sorting your waste into the corresponding bins is a big step towards a smaller ecological footprint. If this is not yet part of your routine, accept the challenge of putting a few small recycling bins in your kitchen – depending on how your country sorts recycling. It is a simple way to sort waste effortlessly and make it easier for your community to route it properly when collecting it.

Did you know there are over three recycling categories? The next time you use food oil or replace the batteries in your remote control, give them another life. Learn the 5 Rs that make life more sustainable.

Illustration of two women sitting at the table talking.
  1. November: Spread the word

Another essential part of reducing your ecological footprint is encouraging more people to do so. Talk to your co-workers, share your experience with friends and family, promote your new habits and achievements on social media, and challenge others to join you. The amazing feeling of contributing to a better planet is contagious!

Illustration of man sewing a Christmas stocking.
  1. December: More conscious consumption

Finally, December and one of the most anticipated times of the year, Christmas. This month, think about the path you’ve taken, make a list of the unsustainable habits you’ve abandoned and the good habits you’ve adopted. To wrap up the year on a high note, celebrate a greener Christmas from gifts to supper. Check this guide to sustainable Christmas gifts and the DIY gift ideas that add an even more special touch to the Christmas season.

Looks like we’ve come through an entire calendar, but we’re just getting started. The perfect time to say “yes” to change, achieve goals and take steps to get to the end of the year with the certainty that we have made the world a better place. Do you accept the challenge? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more tips to reduce your ecological footprint every month.