Connecting Local to Global: Geographic Information Systems and Ecological Footprints as Tools for Sustainability

The Professional Geographer, Volume 62, Issue 1 February 2010 , pages 84 – 102

Sonja Klinsky; Reneacutee Sieber; Thom Meredith

“Tools that support public engagement with sustainability are essential for local sustainability planning. This research investigates the ability of two geographic information system (GIS)-based tools to promote discussion of sustainability in a suburban context. A local ecological footprint tool and a community environmental atlas (an environmentally themed online mapping system) were created for seven suburban boroughs of Montreal. Variations of both tools have been used to support sustainability efforts, but their use has not been widely evaluated. Working from a public participation GIS (PPGIS) framework that recognizes the powerful influence of data representation, this research uses focus groups to evaluate how well these tools address three criteria that have emerged from the literature on public engagement in sustainability: interdependency across systems, reflexivity about personal and social decision making, and interactions across spatial scales. Whereas the atlas remains advantageous for discussing local spatial specifics, it was found that the ecological footprint helped people see the interconnections among systems, integrate local and global aspects of sustainability, and reflect on the values and assumptions underlying current social and economic structures.”