Does your impact really make a difference? How much impact does one human make during their lifetime?

Before you were born, you have already made an impact on this planet.

Your parents start preparing for your arrival buying things for your nursery and when you finally come into the world, you start eating and wearing diapers. It has been estimated that 27 billion disposable diapers are used every year in the United States and more than 90 percent of these diapers end up in the landfill. Yes, there is a green movement toward cloth diapers and I’m not talking about the old-fashioned kind with a safety pin. Cloth diapers have evolved and advanced, but rather than my attempt to describe these kind, I would recommend you search online, if you are interested.

Moving on, babies grow up to be school-age children, then teenagers and into adulthood, and, finally, we die. Sorry to be morbid, but even funerals can go green by selecting biodegradable coffins or a natural marker.

The human impact on our planet is obviously a debatable topic. It has been proven that much of our measurable impacts can be attributed to what we consume during our lifetime. For example, the average American uses 10 different body products every day from shampoo and lotion to makeup and perfume. Think about all that packaging – some recyclable and some not. Our consumption habits are something we can individually control, especially when what we buy sends a message to companies about purchases, markets and the economy.

National Geographic provides a realistic view of our personal consumption and waste during our lifetime and according to NG, you will consume the following: 3,796 diapers, 87,520 slices of bread, 13,056 pints of milk, 28,433 showers, 389 tubes of toothpaste, 43,371 cans of soda, $52,972 on your clothes, 15 computers and 12 cars.

You can also calculate your own estimated impact on our planet online at or by answering questions about your lifestyle. Of course, I decided to calculate mine and, honestly, I was very shocked! As your Living Green columnist, I’m embarrassed to admit my own impact to you, however, no one is perfect. So, here is the truth. If everyone lived my lifestyle, we would need 3.46 earths. That’s right, 3.46 earths.

Here are my results, but at least I am below the country’s averages:

Carbon Footprint – Mine is 39 global acres (national average is 91 global acres)

Food Footprint – Mine is 65 global acres (national average is 65 global acres)

Housing Footprint – Mine is 20 global acres (national average is 30 global acres)

Goods and Services Footprint – Mine is 9 global acres (national average is 58 global acres)

After this shocking truth, I have some personal green living work to do.  I have always believed that small lifestyle changes can make a big difference. However, we have to look at the big picture too. Two of the main categories that I need to improve on include my food and housing footprints. I do feel very good about my goods and services footprint being so low – it must be all the thrift stores I peruse.

We all have some green work to do and it needs to be part of our conscious consumer decisions every day. Remember Earth Day is April 22, so make it a goal this month to start making a greener change in your lifestyle.

While you make your decisions, here are some helpful, simple ways you can start to reduce your lifetime impact:


  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Turn off lights when leaving a room
  • Unplug unused appliances
  • Dry your laundry outside
  • Unload junk from your car’s trunk and save on gas


  • Start a veggie garden in your backyard
  • Purchase produce and local products from a farmer’s market
  • Choose organic or local foods or buy products while they are in season locally
  • Don’t waste food


  • Carpool, bike or walk to work, stores, schools
  • Don’t idle your car, avoid the drive-thru
  • Have your car serviced regularly and check tires
  • Avoid short plane trips, take train or bus instead


  • Compost food scraps instead of using the garbage disposal
  • Minimize shower time
  • Avoid hosing decks, driveways
  • Run dishwasher and laundry only when full


  • Use drought-tolerant plants
  • Use biodegradable products without harsh chemicals
  • Buy for quality, not for quantity
  • Reuse items or borrow whenever possible
the author

Originally from Virginia, Jennifer C. Sellers is passionate about sustainability and conservation in South Carolina and throughout the world. She earned her BA in English from Coastal Carolina University and her MAS in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Denver. She is a university sustainability coordinator that implements programs and teaches people about going green and being sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @MyGreenGlasses

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  1. Emily @ Random Recycling on April 12, 2012

    I’m always amazed at these quizzes…especially when you are already green-minded. Imagine was most scores are!