Most of the time, when I write on WellUrban about sustainability, I concentrate upon urban form and public transport, since those are the topics that overlap most readily with urban design and architecture. However, there are plenty of other ways for Wellingtonians to reduce their ecological footprints.
A good place to start is by reading ShoppingFix, a local blog aiming to provide "a Kiwi flavoured look at the broad concept of sustainability" (mmm, Kiwi flavoured...). It's eventually moving towards a shopping rewards programme to encourage consumers to buy from responsible businesses, but in the meantime it's a useful resource for news, information and random tidbits.
The site Sustainable Future has received some publicity recently. It's a portal for sustainability information, but it goes beyond the usual "list of links" approach by allowing you to search for academic papers, standards and case law, and on the less dry side it lets you shop online for NZ-made fashion. The editor, Wendy McGuinness, set up The Brown Paper Bag Company to help fund it. One could argue that the corporate gift business is inherently unsustainable, since such giveaways are an unnecessary use of resources, but the use of locally-sourced products and recycled packaging sends a good message, and themed packs like "Wellington, the Dark Side" show a lot of imagination.
On the subject of packaging, BagsNOT have started a campaign to put a levy on supermarket plastic bags. It's one of those things that we all know is bad, but if you're like me and do much of your supermarket shopping ad hoc, it's easy to forget to take a reusable shopping bag. A tax of 30c per bag might make us think twice, though, and a comparable tax in Ireland has apparently been a great success. In the meantime, a lot of companies and institutions are selling or giving away reusable bags: Workshop's is very slick and eminently useable, while it seems that the one to be seen with is the one from the City Library.
Another way to encourage reuse is to make it easier to share goods between people. Let Use It is a new Wellington company that aims to be the TradeMe of hiring and lending, letting anyone offer goods for hire. It's early days, but already the goods available range from artworks and books to barbeques and snowboards. On a less formal basis, I'm waiting for someone to try this guerilla approach to setting up book & video exchange boxes. But the one type of asset that could provide the greatest environmental benefit from being shared is cars. I've heard that there are plans afoot to set up a car-sharing service in Central Wellington, a little bit like the well-known American ZipCar company. Wellington would be the perfect place for such a scheme, since it's compact and has relatively good public transport, and an initiative like that would enable many people who have only occasional need for a car to live without having to own one.
New Zealand is lucky to have most of its electricity produced from renewable sources, but not all suppliers are equally clean. According to Greenpeace's Clean Energy Guide site, Wellington's energy retailers range from the fossil-fuelled Genesis to the only committed 100%-renewable supplier, Meridian. It's pretty easy to switch supplier online, and if you're worried about your pocket more than the climate, check Consumer magazine's Powerswitch site first: if you're a low energy user, Meridian may also work out to be the cheapest retailer, so there might be no need for a compromise.
Finally, a quick word about footprint calculators. And that word is: "crap". I haven't checked out all of the available online calculators, but the ones I've tried seem overly simplistic. For instance, if you use our own Ministry for the Environment's calculator, hardly any of the above initiatives would make any difference to the result it gives you. It makes no allowance for the source of electricity you use, the sustainability of the products you consume, the size of your home, or any personal efforts you take to reduce waste. It relies so heavily on assumed averages that even a strict vegetarian living completely off the grid would still use up 1.9 globes' worth of resources! Overseas sites can also be misleading, since energy sources vary so much. If anyone can point me towards a really good ecological footprint calculator, I'd love to know.