We only have one planet!

Just one. Obviously. But the way some people carry on you’d think we had five – in some cases even eight – wonderful blue, vibrant orbs just like planet Earth, rotating round our life-giving Sun.

Perhaps they imagine these worlds – duplicates of ours except minus human beings – are hiding on the far side of the sun. Sitting there conveniently, so that when we’ve used up all the resources on this planet, we can go and tap into those. How simple the future might be if we could.

We’d probably need more than one extra planet. But hey, you never know what might turn up.

As far as I know, astronomers haven’t detected any more earth-like planets in the attainable vicinity.

What a shame.

Enter the concept of One Planet Living.

Crossing the one planet threshold of our ecological footprint

We crossed the one planet threshold of our global ecological footprint back in the late ’60s: the amount of resources we can sustainably use.

In the 1990s the environmental group WWF developed the concept of the ecological footprint. It measures in a form that is very easy to communicate, the environmental impact of our activities compared to the number of people on the planet and the resources it contains and its ability to absorb pollution.

Ecological footprint graphic explanation

In the UK we use over three planet’s worth of resources on average. In the United States it is much higher.


In 2002, the Beddington Zero (fossil) Energy Development, or BedZED as it is known (pictured below), was completed in south London. Designed by BioRegional for an affordable housing association with architect, Bill Dunster, the 100 home development aimed to create a whole sustainable lifestyle.


Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone are the husband and wife team behind BioRegional. They analysed BedZED, measuring its performance against its ecological footprint, which led them to come up with the term ‘One Planet Living’.

In 2009 “One Wales One Planet” was published, with a vision of putting sustainable development at the centre of government delivery, encouraging others to embrace sustainable development as their central organising principle.

 Jane DavidsonThe following year the then Environment Minister for Wales, Jane Davidson (right), saw through the introduction of One Planet Developments into national planning guidance in Wales with the dry-sounding Technical Advisory Note 6: Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities.

The accompanying planning guidance also allows for one planet dwellings and communities in urban areas (though none has yet been tried).

Jane says: “I am a passionate believer in creating an effective and fair planning system that is responsive to ecological challenges and encourages innovation.”

Since that time various cities or smaller developments around the world have signalled a willingness to move towards one planet living.

Bioregional operates on four continents.

Brighton in the south of England has fully declared its intention to be a one planet city and Bristol is thinking about it. I’m going to a meeting to discuss this in Bristol next week.

All of this is very exciting and it is the subject of my new book, The One Planet Life, out this month, to which both Pooran and Jane have contributed. In fact some of the above text is direct quotation from the book.

 cover of The One Planet Life

During the course of the writing of the book, together with many existing or aspiring one planet development practitioners, we have founded the One Planet Council. This exists to support all of these trends and those who want to live the one planet life. We are beginning to deliver training programs.

I believe this is the beginning of a trend. It’s the thin edge of a wedge that is being driven into planning policy and thinking about the use of land, and who – or what – it is for. Because land is fundamental to the question of sustainable development, of regeneration, of the resilience of communities – the use of the land as well as its ownership.

Pooran Desai said in conversation to me recently that he believes that land speculation should be banned. It artificially drives up the price of land putting it outside of the reach of most of those who need to use it. I believe this is true. It is a fundamental injustice and incompatibility with sustainable development.

With this in mind The One Planet Life acts as a manifesto, stating the following demands and supporting them with a 15,000 word essay of evidence:

We ask:

  1. That to aim towards one planet living should become an underlying principle of planning and official policy as de facto the only objectively-verifiable sustainable strategy
  2. That the same set of social and environmental criteria should be used to assess all planning applications to create a level playing field
  3. That these criteria, amongst others, should be informed by ecological footprint analysis which enables all projects to be compared for their environmental impact
  4. That official attitudes to land use should change to help rural areas use one planet living methods to become more productive and more populated, and urban areas more green.

We make this call for the following reasons, which are substantiated in the book:

The one planet life:

  1. results in more productive land use with far fewer environmental impacts
  2. creates more employment than conventional agriculture
  3. promotes greater physical and mental health and well-being, reducing the burden on the welfare state and health service
  4. requires no taxpayer subsidies, unlike much conventional farming
  5. improves the local economy, resilience and food security
  6. therefore is more sustainable and gives excellent value.

Readers of Sustainable Cities Collective website can obtain a 20% discount on the price of the book by going to this website and entering the code FLR40 at checkout. Tweet using the hastag ‪#‎OnePlanetLife‬!

Jane Davidson says of it: “Throughout this book you will read how those who have embraced this lifestyle fully feel liberated by their choice: they have reconnected with nature; they understand the seasons and where food comes from and the limitations of what can/cannot be grown or reared where they live; they can offer a different, more sustainable future to their offspring. Not everyone will want to take the great leap into the unknown, but all of us can use this book to help us demonstrate the principles of one planet living in one or more parts of our lives.”

Pooran Desai adds: “This thought-provoking book summarises some of the approaches which can help us on the journey – so please read, learn, practise and share. There are many already on the journey and we can, together, co-create a better future.”

Some other recommendations include:

  • “A wealth of practical detail” – Oliver Tickell, editor, The Ecologist magazine
  • “Shows the journey to a new life.” – George Marshall
  • “What it means to live a ‘one-planet’ lifestyle” – Prof Max Munday, Cardiff Business School.