Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Footprinting New Zealand urban forms and lifestyles

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posted on 2021-11-15, 11:04 authored by Lawton, Ella Susanne

More than 90% of New Zealand’s ecological footprint results from the lifestyle choices of individuals, although the size and impact of their lifestyle footprint depends on the type of urban form in which they live.  The aim of this research is to highlight the degree to which New Zealanders are living beyond their fair earth share and how this appears through lifestyles. As the population continues to increase and resources become scarce, it is vital that both governments and communities have effective resource accounting tools to inform further urban development, given its influence on resource use. The thesis highlights how urban form could reduce barriers to people’s future wellbeing and it identifies the types of lifestyles that support a shift towards lower footprint living.  To understand how the ecological footprint of New Zealand’s communities is generated by a combination of the community members’ lifestyle choices and interaction with their urban form, the research comprised five steps.  1. Designing a footprint method and calculating local footprint yields for the New Zealand context.  2. Calculating the New Zealand footprint in nine categories: food and beverages, travel, consumer goods, holidays, household energy, housing, infrastructure, government and services.  3. Creating a calculator and survey, and collecting household footprint data from five New Zealand communities.  4. Processing data and analysing community results highlighting differences and similarities between them.  5. Using the community output creating fair earth share scenarios which highlight those footprint categories within each urban form that provide the best opportunity for reducing a community’s footprint.  Throughout this project the ecological footprint has been an effective indicator which has provided the means to communicate complex environmental data in a simplified form to diverse groups. The project used the ecological footprint to measure and communicate the trends that are putting pressure on the planet’s finite availability of land; a growing demand and the decreasing supply. It was found to be an effective communication tool for both communities and local government organisations that formed a way of discussing how to reduce their footprint in the future.  Although many New Zealand lifestyles exist in a variety of types of urban form, some lifestyle types are more typical in certain urban forms. Food was found to be the predominant driver of a household’s footprint. Use of commercial land for growing, on-farm inputs and food processing made up the largest portion of the food footprint. Holidays and pets were also large contributors to an individual’s footprint. Due to the high amount of renewable energy that goes into producing New Zealand’s electricity, household energy was proportionally much less than found in similar international footprint case studies.  The final scenarios show that fair earth share living in New Zealand is possible; some individuals are already doing it. However bringing about large-scale change will require collective community strategic planning, planning tools to develop resource efficient urban design, and immediate action.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure Basic Research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Vale, Brenda; Vale, Robert