Understanding Your Ecological Footprint

How does the Ecological Footprint work?

In general, the Ecological Footprint measures resource consumption of human activities across the whole lifecycle of a product or service and converts this to the amount of land needed to supply the resources consumed and assimilate the waste generated. Ecological Footprint accounts for our global nature of our economy by capturing the impact of imports and exports.

The Ecological Footprint does not account for hazardous impacts of products such as the impact of dioxins released in the atmosphere, nor does it measure water usage against water availability. The Footprint tool does, however, measure the land required to eliminate Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the impact of the energy required to provide the water we consume.

Ecological Footprint accounts calculate humanity's demand on nature in specific, understandable terms, using official government statistics. The accounts are helping hundreds of individuals, businesses, governments and sustainability practitioners around the world to more effectively manage the earth's ecological assets and move society toward a sustainable way of living.

Eco Footprint Graphic
Humanity Ecological Footprint Graph

What does the Ecological Footprint tell us?

Humanity's Ecological Footprint can be illustrated in numbers of planets, where one planet equals the total biocapacity of the Earth in any one year. Since the late 1980's, we have been in 'overshoot': currently the Ecological Footprint exceeds the Earth's biocapacity by about 25 per cent. In other words, at the global level, we are currently living beyond the means of nature by one-fourth.

Ecological Overshoot

The Ecological Footprint illustrates that, as a global community, we currently need about 1.2 planets to meet our average consumption levels. The average global Ecological Footprint is 2.2 global hectares per person, while there are only 1.8 hectares of biologically productive area per person available on the planet. This is called 'overshoot'.

Much like spending more money than you earn, it is possible to exceed ecological limits for a while, but this "deficit spending" leads to the destruction of ecological assets on which our economy depends, such as depleted groundwater, collapsing fisheries, Carbon dioxide (CO2), accumulation in the atmosphere, and deforestation.

Ecological Overshoot, therefore, means that we are reducing the ability of the earth's land and water to support humans and other species into the future.

Ending Global Overshoot Graph

* Information gathered from EPA Victoria http://www.epa.vic.gov.au. (Accessed September 26, 2008)

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