What Can a Soccer Ball Teach Us about Embodied Energy?


When I stumbled upon this video of the production of an Adidas 2010 World Cup soccer ball, it struck me as a huge lesson in embodied energy. Embodied energy is a term to describe all of the energy that goes into the production of a product, whether it be a carrot, a book, a pair of jeans, or a skyscraper. Embodied energy includes the manufacture, shipment, transport, and all other aspects of producing a product. Embracing the concept of embodied energy is a big step into understanding what it means to be ecologically sustainable.

A big part of the sustainability movement is a strive to live more simply and more in control of all aspects of our lives: growing our own food, walking and biking instead of relying on vehicles, creating our own renewable energy, and even making our own entertainment.

The industrial complex is in a hugely stark contrast to the sustainability movement. A factory is a great and very obvious representation of industry, and in this video we get a glimpse of all of the heaps of technology, labor, and embodied energy that goes into making a factory-produced soccer ball, a pretty simple object in the grand scheme of things.

Embodied energy in a soccer ball… or anything else

Here is the lesson. Can you look beyond that soccer ball to see all of the embodied energy that has gone into making that ball possible to exist? The extraction of raw materials for the ball (which undoubtedly includes petroleum), the shipment of raw materials (more petroleum), the manufacture of the ball (which includes all of the computers and technology responsible for the making of the ball), the energy to make that technology work (the actual fossil fuels being consumed to make all of that technology work), and then the shipment of the ball (that’s even more petroleum and fossil fuel consumption)?

It’s dizzying. And that’s just a soccer ball! Look around you and imagine what the embodied energy of the desk you are sitting at must be, or the computer you are staring at, and the building you are in.

Learning to live sustainably means learning to minimize embodied energy. That’s why so many people are starting to grow their own food, for example — to minimize the distance that food travels and to eliminate the chemicals that go into industrial food production (among other reasons, of course).

Ultimately, minimizing embodied energy is a big step towards living with a smaller ecological footprint.

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