EIA and the individual, a move towards sustainability

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) plays a crucial role throughout the lifecycle of a project.  EIA is used to predict and mitigate potential environmental impacts associated with a project before it is undertaken.  This improves the environmental aspects of the project, moving towards sustainability.  Sustainability and sustainable development can be defined as meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  It is great that various projects can use EIA to further this cause but it would be even better if sustainability could become a part of everyday life for people around the world.  Sustainability is great to talk about but it can be difficult to put into practice without the right access to knowledge.  That could be where the idea of an individual EIA can be implemented.

An individual EIA would allow people to understand how their actions are affecting the environment.  An individual EIA could be linked to a database that involves a list of many common activities that people would undergo in their day to day life.  A user would search for their planned activity within the database and would find the potential environmental impacts of said activity and propose potential mitigation measures that they could follow in order to reduce those impacts.  Much like a project EIA, this would allow for the prediction and mitigation of impacts from proposed individual actions before they are undertaken.  Information could also be provided within the personal EIA database that would allow people to learn more about how exactly their actions impact the environment.  Instead of just providing numbers, it would provide a knowledge base that would give the user a more practical understanding of the affected system and how exactly their impacts will influence change within that system.  Personal EIAs would give individuals a better understanding of how changes at the personal level over a wide spatial scale can make a large overall impact.  The volume of information required in order to make this viable is quite large.  A personal EIA database would require collaboration from EIA practitioners as well impact information from the public and private sector.  The cooperation of many different parties has the potential to populate the database with enough information to make it viable.

Personalized EIA can also help individuals understand how their resource use habits compare to different countries as a whole.  For example, Canadians have the highest domestic water consumption per capita in the world (Hoekstra and Chapagain 2007).  An individual EIA focused upon water consumption would be particularly relevant to a Canadian due to our high domestic water consumption, as we have much more room for improvement than other countries.  The personalized EIA could go as far as suggesting grey water or green roof systems in order to help mitigate these impacts.  The idea of a personalized EIA still has room for improvement.  An alternative could be using a set form that can be filled out to give an overall assessment of a user’s general environmental impacts similar to a carbon footprint calculator (http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx).  This will reduce the amount of information required in order to give relevant feedback to the user.  However, it would also limit the ability for the user to search for specific planned activities in order to mitigate effects before an activity is undertaken.  It is possible that through a collective effort from  and improving awareness of our individual environmental impacts we will help our society as a whole move towards the goal of sustainability.

Sources:

Carbon Footprint Limited. “Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Carbon Footprint. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan 2012. <http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.asp&gt;

Hoekstra, A.Y., and A.K. Chapagain. “Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern.” Water Resource Management. 21. (2007): 35-48.

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