The ecological footprint is a method promoted by the Global Footprint Network to measure human demand on natural capital, i.e. the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy.It tracks this demand through an ecological accounting system. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region or the world (biocapacity, the productive area that can regenerate what people demand from nature). In short, it is a measure of human impact on the environment.
Footprint and biocapacity can be compared at the individual, regional, national or global scale. Both footprint and biocapacity change every year with number of people, per person consumption, efficiency of production, and productivity of ecosystems. At a global scale, footprint assessments show how big humanity's demand is compared to what Earth can renew. Global Footprint Network estimates that, as of 2014, humanity has been using natural capital 1.7 times as fast as Earth can renew it, which they describe as meaning humanity's ecological footprint corresponds to 1.7 planet Earths.
Ecological footprint analysis is widely used around the world in support of sustainability assessments.It enables people to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy and explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry sectors, neighborhoods, cities, regions and nations.
The first academic publication about ecological footprints was by William Rees in 1992.The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under Rees' supervision at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994. Originally, Wackernagel and Rees called the concept "appropriated carrying capacity". To make the idea more accessible, Rees came up with the term "ecological footprint", inspired by a computer technician who praised his new computer's "small footprint on the desk". In 1996, Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.
The simplest way to define ecological footprint is the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle.
The model is a means of comparing consumption and lifestyles, and checking this against biocapacity. The tool can inform policy by examining to what extent a nation uses more (or less) than is available within its territory, or to what extent the nation's lifestyle would be replicable worldwide. The footprint can also be a useful tool to educate people about overconsumption, with the aim of altering personal behavior. Ecological footprints may be used to argue that many current lifestyles are not sustainable. Such a global comparison also clearly shows the inequalities of resource use on this planet.[ citation needed ]
The GHG footprint or the more narrow carbon footprint are a component of the ecological footprint. Often, when only the carbon footprint is reported, it is expressed in weight of CO
2 (or CO2e representing GHG warming potential (GGWP)), but it can also be expressed in land areas like ecological footprints. Both can be applied to products, people or whole societies.
The focus of ecological footprint accounting is renewable resources. The total amount of such resources which the plant produces according to this model has been dubbed biocapacity. Ecological footprints can be calculated at any scale: for an activity, a person, a community, a city, a town, a region, a nation, or humanity as a whole. Footprint values are categorized for carbon, food, housing, goods and services. This approach can be applied to an activity such as the manufacturing of a product or driving of a car. This resource accounting is similar to life-cycle analysis wherein the consumption of energy, biomass (food, fiber), building material, water and other resources are converted into a normalized measure of land area called global hectares (gha).[ citation needed ]
Since 2003, Global Footprint Network has calculated the ecological footprint from UN data sources for the world as a whole and for over 200 nations (known as the National Footprint Accounts). The total footprint number of Earths needed to sustain the world's population at that level of consumption are also calculated. Every year the calculations are calibrated. The time series are recalculated with every update since UN statistics also change historical data sets. Lin et al. (2018) finds that the trends for countries and the world have stayed consistent despite data updates.Also, a recent study by the Swiss Ministry of Environment independently recalculated the Swiss trends and reproduced them within 1–4% for the time period that they studied (1996–2015). Since 2006, a first set of ecological footprint standards exist that detail both communication and calculation procedures. The latest version are the updated standards from 2009.
The ecological footprint accounting method at the national level is described on the website of Global Footprint Networkor in greater detail in academic papers, including Borucke et al.
The National Accounts Review Committee has published a research agenda on how to improve the accounts.
For 2014 Global Footprint Network estimated humanity's ecological footprint as 1.7 planet Earths. According to their calculations this means that humanity's demands were 1.7 times more than what the planet's ecosystems renewed.
In 2007, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 gha, and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha, while China's was 1.8 gha.The WWF claims that the human footprint has exceeded the biocapacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%. Wackernagel and Rees originally estimated that the available biological capacity for the 6 billion people on Earth at that time was about 1.3 hectares per person, which is smaller than the 1.8 global hectares published for 2006, because the initial studies neither used global hectares nor included bioproductive marine areas.
According to the 2018 edition of the National footprint accounts, humanity's total ecological footprint has exhibited an increasing trend since 1961, growing an average of 2.1% per year (SD= 1.9).Humanity's ecological footprint was 7.0 billion gha in 1961 and increased to 20.6 billion gha in 2014. The world-average ecological footprint in 2014 was 2.8 global hectares per person. The carbon footprint is the fastest growing part of the ecological footprint and accounts currently for about 60% of humanity's total ecological footprint.
The Earth's biocapacity has not increased at the same rate as the ecological footprint. The increase of biocapacity averaged at only 0.5% per year (SD = 0.7).Because of agricultural intensification, biocapacity was at 9.6 billion gha in 1961 and grew to 12.2 billion gha in 2016.
According to Wackernagel and his organisation, the Earth has been in "overshoot", where humanity is using more resources and generating waste at a pace that the ecosystem can't renew, since the 1970s.In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day, the date where humanity has used more from nature than the planet can renew in the entire year, was estimated to be August 1. Now more than 85% of humanity lives in countries that run an ecological deficit.
According to Rees, "the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of 'natural capital'."
The world-average ecological footprint in 2013 was 2.8 global hectares per person.The average per country ranges from over 10 to under 1 global hectares per person. There is also a high variation within countries, based on individual lifestyle and economic possibilities.
The Western Australian government State of the Environment Report included an Ecological Footprint measure for the average Western Australian seven times the average footprint per person on the planet in 2007, a total of about 15 hectares.
The UK's average ecological footprint is 5.45 global hectares per capita (gha) with variations between regions ranging from 4.80 gha (Wales) to 5.56 gha (East England).
BedZED, a 96-home mixed-income housing development in South London, was designed by Bill Dunster Architects and sustainability consultants BioRegional for the Peabody Trust. Despite being populated by relatively average people, BedZED was found to have a footprint of 3.20 gha (not including visitors), due to on-site renewable energy production, energy-efficient architecture, and an extensive green lifestyles program that included London's first carsharing club.[ citation needed ] Findhorn Ecovillage, a rural intentional community in Moray, Scotland, had a total footprint of 2.56 gha, including both the many guests and visitors who travel to the community. However, the residents alone had a footprint of 2.71 gha, a little over half the UK national average and one of the lowest ecological footprints of any community measured so far in the industrialized world. Keveral Farm, an organic farming community in Cornwall, was found to have a footprint of 2.4 gha, though with substantial differences in footprints among community members.
In a 2012 study of consumers acting 'green' vs. 'brown' (where green people are "expected to have significantly lower ecological impact than 'brown' consumers"), the conclusion was "the research found no significant difference between the carbon footprints of green and brown consumers".A 2013 study concluded the same.
Early criticism was published by van den Bergh and Verbruggen in 1999,which was updated in 2014. Another criticism was published in 2008. A more complete review commissioned by the Directorate-General for the Environment (European Commission) was published in June 2008. The review found the concept unique and useful for assessing progress on the EU’s Resource Strategy, but that further improvements in data quality, methodologies and assumptions were needed.
A recent critique of the concept is due to Blomqvist et al. (2013)with a reply from Rees and Wackernagel (2013), and a rejoinder by Blomqvist et al. (2013)
An additional strand of critique is from Giampietro and Saltelli (2014),with a reply from Goldfinger et al., 2014, a rejoinder by Giampietro and Saltelli (2014), . A joint paper summarising the terms of the controversy was finally authored by the two involved teams in the journal Ecological indicators. Additional comments were offered by van den Bergh and Grazi (2015).
A number of countries have engaged in research collaborations to test the validity of the method. This includes Switzerland,Germany, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates and Belgium.
Grazi et al. (2007) have performed a systematic comparison of the ecological footprint method with spatial welfare analysis that includes environmental externalities, agglomeration effects and trade advantages. They find that the footprint method does not lead to maximum social welfare.
Newman (2006) has argued that the ecological footprint concept may have an anti-urban bias, as it does not consider the opportunities created by urban growth.Calculating the ecological footprint for densely populated areas, such as a city or small country with a comparatively large population — e.g. New York and Singapore respectively — may lead to the perception of these populations as "parasitic". This is because these communities have little intrinsic biocapacity, and instead must rely upon large hinterlands . Critics argue that this is a dubious characterization since farmers in developed nations may easily consume more resources than urban inhabitants, due to transportation requirements and the unavailability of economies of scale. Furthermore, such moral conclusions seem to be an argument for autarky. Some even take this train of thought a step further, claiming that the footprint denies the benefits of trade. Therefore such critics argue that the footprint can only be applied globally.
The method rewards the replacement of original ecosystems with high-productivity agricultural monocultures by assigning a higher biocapacity to such regions. For example, replacing ancient woodlands or tropical forests with monoculture forests or plantations may improve the ecological footprint. Similarly if organic farming yields were lower than those of conventional methods, this could result in the former being "penalized" with a larger ecological footprint.Complementary biodiversity indicators attempt to address this. The WWF's Living Planet Report combines the footprint calculations with the Living Planet Index of biodiversity. A modified ecological footprint that takes biodiversity into account has been created for use in Australia.
Natural capital is the world's stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water and all living organisms. Some natural capital assets provide people with free goods and services, often called ecosystem services. Two of these underpin our economy and society, and thus make human life possible.
I = PAT is the mathematical notation of a formula put forward to describe the impact of human activity on the environment.
Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include population growth, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and human overpopulation is strongly correlated with those problems.
Food miles is the distance food is transported from the time of its making until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when testing the environmental impact of food, such as the carbon footprint of the food.
William Rees, FRSC, is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC.
Findhorn Ecovillage is an experimental architectural community project based at The Park, in Moray, Scotland, near the village of Findhorn. The project's main aim is to demonstrate a sustainable development in environmental, social, and economic terms. Work began in the early 1980s under the auspices of the Findhorn Foundation but now includes a wide diversity of organisations and activities. Numerous different ecological techniques are in use, and the project has won a variety of awards, including the UN-Habitat Best Practice Designation in 1998.
The global hectare (gha) is a measurement unit for the ecological footprint of people or activities and the biocapacity of the earth or its regions. One global hectare is the world's annual amount of biological production for human use and human waste assimilation, per hectare of biologically productive land and fisheries.
Mathis Wackernagel is a Swiss-born sustainability advocate. He is President of Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in Oakland, California; Brussels, Belgium, and Geneva, Switzerland. The think-tank is a non-profit that focuses on developing and promoting metrics for sustainability.
Sustainability metrics and indices are measures of sustainability, and attempt to quantify beyond the generic concept. Though there are disagreements among those from different disciplines, these disciplines and international organizations have each offered measures or indicators of how to measure the concept.
This page is an index of sustainability articles.
Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to co-exist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social, which according to Fritjof Capra is based on the principles of Systems Thinking. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical.
A water footprint shows the extent of water use in relation to consumption by people. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in water volume consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. A water footprint can be calculated for any well-defined group of consumers or producers, for a single process or for any product or service.
In environmentalism, the concept of overshoot is the belief that the human population, or its resource consumption patterns, has or in the future may rise above the sustainable use of resources. The "overshoot" is that proportion of the population or environmental footprint which must be eliminated in order for human society on Earth to be sustainable.
Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) is the calculated illustrative calendar date on which humanity's resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. The term "overshoot" represents the level by which human population overshoots the sustainable amount of resources on Earth. When viewed through an economic perspective, EOD represents the day in which humanity enters environmental deficit spending. EOD is calculated by dividing the world biocapacity, by the world ecological footprint, and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:
Global Footprint Network, founded in 2003, is an independent think tank originally based in the United States, Belgium and Switzerland. It was established as a charitable not-for-profit organization in each of those three countries.
The biocapacity or biological capacity of an ecosystem is an estimate of its production of certain biological materials such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Land footprint is the real amount of land, wherever it is in the world, that is needed to produce a product, or used by an organisation or by a nation.
Quantitative storytelling (QST) is a systematic approach used to explore the multiplicity of frames potentially legitimate in a scientific study or controversy. QST assumes that in an interconnected society multiple frameworks and worldviews are legitimately upheld by different entities and social actors. QST looks critically on models used in evidence-based policy (EBP). Such models are often in the form of risk analyses or cost benefit analyses, and necessarily focus on a single framing of the issue under consideration. QST suggests corrective approaches to this practice.
A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two.
The research found no significant difference between the carbon footprints of green and brown consumers suggesting that individual environmental behaviour does not always modify consumption patterns significantly.
Environmental identity will lead to some relatively low-impact (high-signaling) pro-environmental behaviors, but it rarely drives serious reductions in the biggest sources of lifestyle emissions. Environmental self-identification rises with income, but so do emissions. (A 2012 study and a 2013 study, both based on a survey in Hungary, found roughly the same thing.)
no significant difference is found between the impacts of environmentally aware and environmentally unaware consumers, i.e. both ‘Brown’ and ‘Supergreen’ consumers consume approximately the same amount of energy and produce approximately the same amount of carbon emissions