Study: Estonians' environmental footprint larger than European average

A chimeny.
A chimeny. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonians have a larger environmental footprint with regard to electricity, heating, food and appliances than most of Europe, a report by the Foresight Center (FC) has found. However, the country's environmental mobility footprint is much smaller.

The average environmental footprint of an Estonian transgresses the planetary boundary by 3.8 times, while that of a European is 2.9 times larger than the planetary boundary, the study says.

The FC's expert Magnus Piirits said, according to scientists, there would be a major risk to the preservation of the living environment and natural environment if humans transgress the planetary boundary more than twice.  

"Figuratively speaking, we live and consume today as if we had three planets, not one. The biggest culprit in this is Estonia's energy and heating sector, whose huge environmental impact needs to be massively reduced to reach the planetary boundaries," Piirits said.

"However, everyone can reduce their own environmental footprint. For example, more meat is eaten in Estonia than the nutritionists recommend, and the use of appliances here is higher than the European average,"

Magnus Piirits Source: Praxis

Looking at the average Estonian's diet, pork is the product with the largest environmental footprint.

Reducing the consumption of meat to the level recommended by nutritionists would reduce Estonians' environmental footprint by 0.2 points.

In addition to pork, chocolate, and cheese have the highest environmental impacts.

Estonians' heating and electricity consumed footprint is also larger than the European average.

On the one hand, this is due to Estonia's cooler climate and greater need for heating, but on the other hand, it is due to the widespread use of wood for heating in Estonia.

Boiler plant chimney in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"In densely populated built-up areas, heating with wood is polluting due to the emission of solid fine particles into the air and can cause respiratory diseases. The environmental footprint of wood heating in comparison to natural gas is twice as high per one KWh. If half of the people in Estonia who use wood heating switched to district heating, our environmental footprint would be reduced by 0.4 points," Piirits said.

As an example, he added that while people can have some influence on their environmental footprint by changing their consumption, the implementation of new green technologies and solutions would have the biggest impact.

Although Estonia's car fleet of is among the oldest in Europe, the country's mobility footprint is smaller than the European average. This is because fewer people travel by air.

While air traffic accounts for 27 percent of the environmental footprint of mobility in Europe, it accounts for 2 percent in Estonia. At the same time, if Estonians replaced 20 percent of their car journeys with public transport, our environmental footprint would be reduced by 0.1 points.

A Lufthansa Airbus 380 in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The environmental footprint is formed from 16 categories.

In both Europe and Estonia, the biggest problems are related to the emission of solid particles (8.5 times above the planetary boundary in Europe and 15.9 times in Estonia) and freshwater toxicity (7.7 and 12.6 times above the boundary, respectively).

The climate change acceleration footprint of the average Estonian is of the same size as that of the average European, or 7.6.

However, the footprint of depletion of fossil resources of the average Estonian is smaller than that of the average European (2.6 vs 2.9). Fossil fuels are mainly oil, natural gas and coal.

The calculator of planetary boundaries has been developed by scientists and the European Commission. You can calculate your environmental footprint on the webpage


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Editor: Helen Wright

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