Ecological footprint

The ecological footprint measures human demand on nature, 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 Earth's ecosystem and reveals the dependence of the human economy on natural capital.

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 planet Earth can renew. 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). Every year the calculations are updated with the newest data. The time series are recalculated with every update since UN statistics also change historical data sets. As shown in Lin et al (2018)[2] the time 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)[3]. Global Footprint Network estimates that, as of 2014, humanity has been using natural capital 1.7 times as fast as Earth can renew it.[4][2][5] This means humanity's ecological footprint corresponds to 1.7 planet Earths.

Ecological footprint analysis is widely used around the Earth in support of sustainability assessments.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

World map of countries by ecological footprint (2007)
World map of countries by their raw ecological footprint, relative to the world average biocapacity (2007).
World map of countries by ecological deficit (2013)
National ecological surplus or deficit, measured as a country's biocapacity per person (in global hectares) minus its ecological footprint per person (also in global hectares). Data from 2013.[1]
  x ≤ -9
  -9 < x ≤ -8
  -8 < x ≤ -7
  -7 < x ≤ -6
  -6 < x ≤ -5
  -5 < x ≤ -4
  -4 < x ≤ -3
  -3 < x ≤ -2
  -2 < x ≤ -1
  -1 < x < 0
  0 ≤ x < 2
  2 ≤ x < 4
  4 ≤ x < 6
  6 ≤ x < 8
  8 ≤ x

Footprint measurements and methodology

Blue Marble Western Hemisphere
The natural resources of Earth are finite, and unsustainably strained by current levels of human activity.

For 2014, Global Footprint Network estimated humanity's ecological footprint as 1.7 planet Earths. This means that, according to their calculations, humanity's demands were 1.7 times faster than what the planet's ecosystems renewed.[2][9]

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. Cities, due to their population concentration, have large ecological footprints and have become ground zero for footprint reduction.[10]

The ecological footprint accounting method at the national level is described on the web page of Global Footprint Network [11] or in greater detail in academic papers, including Borucke et al.[12]

The National Accounts Review Committee has also published a research agenda on how to improve the accounts.[13]


The first academic publication about ecological footprints was by William Rees in 1992.[14] 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.[15] Originally, Wackernagel and Rees called the concept "appropriated carrying capacity".[16] 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".[17] In early 1996, Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth with illustrations by Phil Testemale.[18]

Footprint values at the end of a survey are categorized for Carbon, Food, Housing, and Goods and Services as well as the total footprint number of Earths needed to sustain the world's population at that level of consumption. This approach can also 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).

The focus of Ecological Footprint accounting is biological resources. Rather than non-renewable resources like oil or minerals, it is the biological resources that are the materially most limiting resources for the human enterprise. For instance, while the amount of fossil fuel still underground is limited, even more limiting is the biosphere’s ability to cope with the CO2 emitted when burning it. This ability is one of the competing uses of the planet’s biocapacity. Similarly, minerals are limited by the energy available to extract them from the lithosphere and concentrate them. The limits of ecosystems' ability to renew biomass is given by factors such as water availability, climate, soil fertility, solar energy, technology and management practices. This capacity to renew, driven by photosynthesis, is called biocapacity.

Per capita ecological footprint (EF), or ecological footprint analysis (EFA), is a means of comparing consumption and lifestyles, and checking this against biocapacity - nature's ability to provide for this consumption. 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 carrying capacity and 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 at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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.[19][20] The WWF claims that the human footprint has exceeded the biocapacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%.[21] 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.[18]

A number of NGOs offer ecological footprint calculators (see Footprint Calculator, below).

Global trends in humanity's ecological footprint

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)[2]. Humanity’s ecological footprint was 7.0 billion gha in 1961 and increased to 20.6 billion gha in 2014[2]. The world-average ecological footprint in 2014 was 2.8 global hectares per person[2]. The carbon footprint is the fastest growing part of the ecological footprint and accounts currently for about 60% of humanity’s total ecological footprint[2].

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)[2]. Because of agricultural intensification, biocapacity was at 9.6 billion gha in 1961 and grew to 12.2 billion gha in 2014[2].

Therefore, the Earth has been in ecological overshoot (where humanity is using more resources and generating waste at a pace that the ecosystem can’t renew) since the 1970’s[2]. In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day, the date where humanity has used more from nature then the planet can renew in the entire year, was estimated to be August 1[22]. Now more than 85% of humanity live in countries that run an ecological deficit[23]. This means their ecological footprint for consumption exceeds the biocapacity of that country.

Studies in the United Kingdom

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).[20]

Two recent studies have examined relatively low-impact small communities. 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 "mainstream" home-buyers, BedZED was found to have a footprint of 3.20 gha due to on-site renewable energy production, energy-efficient architecture, and an extensive green lifestyles program that included on-site London's first carsharing club. The report did not measure the added footprint of the 15,000 visitors who have toured BedZED since its completion in 2002. 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 to undertake residential courses there and the nearby campus of Cluny Hill College. However, the residents alone have 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.[24][25] 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.[26]

Ecological footprint at the individual level

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".[27][28] A 2013 study concluded the same.[29][30]

A 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters posited that the most significant way individuals could reduce their own carbon footprint is to have fewer children, followed by living without a vehicle, forgoing air travel and adopting a plant-based diet.[31]

Reviews and critiques

Early criticism was published by van den Bergh and Verbruggen in 1999,[32] which was updated in 2014.[33] Another criticism was published in 2008.[34] A more complete review commissioned by the Directorate-General for the Environment (European Commission) was published in June 2008. The review found Ecological Footprint "a useful indicator for assessing progress on the EU’s Resource Strategy" the authors noted that Ecological Footprint analysis was unique "in its ability to relate resource use to the concept of carrying capacity." The review noted that further improvements in data quality, methodologies and assumptions were needed.[35]

A recent critique of the concept is due to Blomqvist et al., 2013a,[36] with a reply from Rees and Wackernagel, 2013,[37] and a rejoinder by Blomqvist et al., 2013b.[38]

An additional strand of critique is due to Giampietro and Saltelli (2014a),[39] with a reply from Goldfinger et al., 2014,[40] a rejoinder by Giampietro and Saltelli (2014a),[41] and additional comments from van den Bergh and Grazi (2015).[42]

A number of countries have engaged in research collaborations to test the validity of the method. This includes Switzerland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and Belgium.[43]

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.[44] They find that the two methods can lead to very distinct, and even opposite, rankings of different spatial patterns of economic activity. However this should not be surprising, since the two methods address different research questions.

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.[45] 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 mechanized rural 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, the critics argue that the Footprint can only be applied globally.[46]

The method seems to reward 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.[47] Of course, this insight, while valid, stems from the idea of using the footprint as one's only metric. If the use of ecological footprints are complemented with other indicators, such as one for biodiversity, the problem might be solved. Indeed, WWF's Living Planet Report complements the biennial Footprint calculations with the Living Planet Index of biodiversity.[48] Manfred Lenzen and Shauna Murray have created a modified Ecological Footprint that takes biodiversity into account for use in Australia.[49]

Although the ecological footprint model prior to 2008 treated nuclear power in the same manner as coal power,[50] the actual real world effects of the two are radically different. A life cycle analysis centered on the Swedish Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant estimated carbon dioxide emissions at 3.10 g/kW⋅h[51] and 5.05 g/kW⋅h in 2002 for the Torness Nuclear Power Station.[52] This compares to 11 g/kW⋅h for hydroelectric power, 950 g/kW⋅h for installed coal, 900 g/kW⋅h for oil and 600 g/kW⋅h for natural gas generation in the United States in 1999.[53] Figures released by Mark Hertsgaard, however, show that because of the delays in building nuclear plants and the costs involved, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energies have seven times the return on investment of investments in nuclear energy.[54]

The Vattenfall study found Nuclear, Hydro, and Wind to have far less greenhouse emissions than other sources represented.

The Swedish utility Vattenfall did a study of full life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources the utility uses to produce electricity, namely: Nuclear, Hydro, Coal, Gas, Solar Cell, Peat and Wind. The net result of the study was that nuclear power produced 3.3 grams of carbon dioxide per kW⋅h of produced power. This compares to 400 for natural gas and 700 for coal (according to this study). The study also concluded that nuclear power produced the smallest amount of CO2 of any of their electricity sources.[55]

Claims exist that the problems of nuclear waste do not come anywhere close to approaching the problems of fossil fuel waste.[56][57] A 2004 article from the BBC states: "The World Health Organization (WHO) says 3 million people are killed worldwide by outdoor air pollution annually from vehicles and industrial emissions, and 1.6 million indoors through using solid fuel."[58] In the U.S. alone, fossil fuel waste kills 20,000 people each year.[59] A coal power plant releases 100 times as much radiation as a nuclear power plant of the same wattage.[60] It is estimated that during 1982, US coal burning released 155 times as much radioactivity into the atmosphere as the Three Mile Island incident.[61] In addition, fossil fuel waste causes global warming, which leads to increased deaths from hurricanes, flooding, and other weather events. The World Nuclear Association provides a comparison of deaths due to accidents among different forms of energy production. In their comparison, deaths per TW-yr of electricity produced (in UK and USA) from 1970 to 1992 are quoted as 885 for hydropower, 342 for coal, 85 for natural gas, and 8 for nuclear.[62]

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.[63]

Footprint by country

Human welfare and ecological footprint sustainability
Ecological footprint for different nations compared to their Human Development Index.

The world-average ecological footprint in 2013 was 2.8 global hectares per person.[2] 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.[64]

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 CO2 (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.[65]


. . . 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"[66]

See also

Related concepts

Since the 1950s, a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene has been proposed to distinguish the period of major human impact.[67]


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Further reading

External links


In geography and ecology, anthropization is the conversion of open spaces, landscapes, and natural environments by human action.Anthropic erosion is the process of human action degrading terrain and soil.

An area may be classified as anthropized even though it looks natural, such as grasslands that have been deforested by humans. It can be difficult to determine how much a site has been anthropized in the case of urbanization because one must be able to estimate the state of the landscape before significant human action.


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. “Useful biological

Biocapacity are expressed in terms of global hectares per person, thus is dependent on human population. A global hectare is an adjusted unit that represents the average biological productivity of all productive hectares on Earth in a given year (because not all hectares produce the same amount of ecosystem services). Biocapacity is calculated from United Nations population and land use data, and may be reported at various regional levels, such as a city, a country, or the world as a whole.

For example, there were 12 billion hectares of biologically productive land and water on this planet in 2008. Dividing by the number of people alive in that year, 6.7 billion, gives a biocapacity of 1.8 global hectares per person . This assumes that no land is set aside for other species that consume the same biological material as humans.Biocapacity is used together with Ecological Footprint as a method of measuring Human impact on the environment. Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint are tools created by the Global Footprint Network, used in sustainability studies around the world.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is historically defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.In most cases, the total carbon footprint cannot be exactly calculated because of inadequate knowledge of and data about the complex interactions between contributing processes, including the influence of natural processes that store or release carbon dioxide. For this reason, Wright, Kemp, and Williams, have suggested to define the carbon footprint as:

A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest. Calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent using the relevant 100-year global warming potential (GWP100).Greenhouse gases (GHGs) can be emitted through land clearance and the production and consumption of food, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted.

Most of the carbon footprint emissions for the average U.S. household come from "indirect" sources, e.g. fuel burned to produce goods far away from the final consumer. These are distinguished from emissions which come from burning fuel directly in one's car or stove, commonly referred to as "direct" sources of the consumer's carbon footprint.The concept name of the carbon footprint originates from ecological footprint, discussion, which was developed by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in the 1990s. This accounting approach compares how much people demand compared to what the planet can renew. This allows to assess the number of "earths" that would be required if everyone on the planet consumed resources at the same level as the person calculating their ecological footprint. The carbon Footprint is one part of the ecological footprint. The carbon part was popularized by a large campaign of BP in 2005. In 2007, carbon footprint was used as a measure of carbon emissions to develop the energy plan for City of Lynnwood, Washington. Carbon footprints are more focused than ecological footprints since they measure merely emissions of gases that cause climate change into the atmosphere.

Carbon footprint is one of a family of footprint indicators, which also includes water footprint and land footprint.

Carrying capacity

The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water, and other necessities available in the environment.

In population biology, carrying capacity is defined as the environment's maximal load, which is different from the concept of population equilibrium. Its effect on population dynamics may be approximated in a logistic model, although this simplification ignores the possibility of overshoot which real systems may exhibit.

Carrying capacity was originally used to determine the number of animals that could graze on a segment of land without destroying it. Later, the idea was expanded to more complex populations, like humans. For the human population, more complex variables such as sanitation and medical care are sometimes considered as part of the necessary establishment. As population density increases, birth rate often increases and death rate typically decreases. The difference between the birth rate and the death rate is the "natural increase". The carrying capacity could support a positive natural increase or could require a negative natural increase. Thus, the carrying capacity is the number of individuals an environment can support without significant negative impacts to the given organism and its environment. Below carrying capacity, populations typically increase, while above, they typically decrease. A factor that keeps population size at equilibrium is known as a regulating factor. Population size decreases above carrying capacity due to a range of factors depending on the species concerned, but can include insufficient space, food supply, or sunlight. The carrying capacity of an environment may vary for different species and may change over time due to a variety of factors including: food availability, water supply, environmental conditions and living space.

The origins of the term "carrying capacity" are uncertain, with researchers variously stating that it was used "in the context of international shipping" or that it was first used during 19th-century laboratory experiments with micro-organisms. A recent review finds the first use of the term in an 1845 report by the US Secretary of State to the US Senate.

Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day (EOD), previously known as Ecological Debt Day (EDD), 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. Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by dividing the world biocapacity (the amount of natural resources generated by Earth that year), by the world ecological footprint (humanity's consumption of Earth’s natural resources for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in one Gregorian common calendar year:

When viewed through an economic perspective, EOD represents the day in which humanity enters an ecological deficit spending. In ecology the term Earth Overshoot Day illustrates the level by which human population overshoots its environment. In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day is on August 1.

Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by Global Footprint Network and is a campaign supported by dozens of other nonprofit organizations. Information about Global Footprint Network's calculations and national Ecological Footprints are available online.


An ecodistrict or eco-district is a neologism associating the terms "district" and "eco" as an abbreviation of ecological.

It designates an urban planning aiming to integrate objectives of sustainable development and reduce the ecological footprint of the project. This notion insists on the consideration of the whole environmental issues by attributing them ambitious levels of requirements.

Ecological yield

Ecological yield is the harvestable population growth of an ecosystem. It is most commonly measured in forestry: sustainable forestry is defined as that which does not harvest more wood in a year than has grown in that year, within a given patch of forest.

However, the concept is also applicable to water, soil, and any other aspect of an ecosystem which can be both harvested and renewed—called renewable resources. The carrying capacity of an ecosystem is reduced over time if more than the amount which is "renewed" (refreshed or regrown or rebuilt) is consumed.

Ecosystem services analysis calculates the global yield of the Earth's biosphere to humans as a whole. This is said to be greater in size than the entire human economy. However, it is more than just yield, but also the natural processes that increase biodiversity and conserve habitat which result in the total value of these services. "Yield" of ecological commodities like wood or water, useful to humans, is only a part of it.

Very often an ecological yield in one place offsets an ecological load in another. Greenhouse gas released in one place, for instance, is fairly evenly distributed in the atmosphere, and so greenhouse gas control can be achieved by creating a carbon sink literally anywhere else.

Findhorn Ecovillage

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.

A recent independent study concludes that the residents have the lowest ecological footprint of any community measured so far in the industrialised world and is also half of the UK average. Although the project has attracted some controversy, the growing profile of environmental issues such as climate change has led to a degree of mainstream acceptance of its ecological ethos.

Global Footprint Network

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.

Global Footprint Network develops and promotes tools for advancing sustainability, including the ecological footprint and biocapacity, which measure the amount of resources we use and how much we have. These tools aim at bringing ecological limits to the center of decision-making.

Global hectare

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.

It measures production and consumption of different products. It starts with the total biological production and waste assimilation in the world, including crops, forests (both wood production and CO2 absorption), grazing and fishing.

The total of these kinds of production, weighted by the richness of the land they use, is divided by the number of hectares used. The calculation does not include deserts, glaciers, and the open ocean."Global hectares per person" refers to the amount of production and waste assimilation per person on the planet. In 2012 there were approximately 12.2 billion global hectares of production and waste assimilation, averaging 1.7 global hectares per person.

Consumption totaled 20.1 billion global hectares or 2.8 global hectares per person, meaning about 65% more was consumed than produced. This is possible because there are natural reserves all around the globe that function as backup food, material and energy supplies, although only for a relatively short period of time. Due to rapid population growth, these reserves are being depleted at an ever increasing tempo. See Earth Overshoot Day.

Opponents and defenders of the concept have discussed its strengths and weaknesses.

Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006. The index is weighted to give progressively higher scores to nations with lower ecological footprints.

The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the usual ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. Furthermore, it is believed that the notion of sustainable development requires a measure of the environmental costs of pursuing those goals.Out of the 178 countries surveyed in 2006, the best scoring countries were Vanuatu, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, and Panama. In 2009, Costa Rica was the best scoring country among the 143 analyzed, followed by the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala and Vietnam. Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe were featured at the bottom of the list.For the 2012 ranking, 151 countries were compared, and the best scoring country for the second time in a row was Costa Rica, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Belize and El Salvador. The lowest ranking countries in 2012 were Botswana, Chad and Qatar. In 2016, out of 140 countries, Costa Rica topped the index for the third time in a row. It was followed by Mexico, Colombia, Vanuatu and Vietnam. At the bottom were Chad, Luxembourg and Togo.

List of countries by ecological footprint

This is a list of countries by ecological footprint. The table is based on data spanning from 1961 to 2013 from the

Global Footprint Network's National Footprint Accounts published in 2016. Numbers are given in global hectares per capita. The

world-average ecological footprint in 2012 was 2.84 global hectares per person (22.1 billion in total). With a world-average biocapacity of 1.73 global hectares (gha) per person (9.2 billion in total), this leads to a global ecological deficit of 1.1 global hectares per person (7.8 billion in total).For humanity, having a footprint smaller than the planet's biocapacity is a necessary condition for sustainability. After all, ecological overuse is only possible temporarily. A country that consumes more, on average, than 1.73 gha per person has a resource demand that is not replicable world-wide. Vice versa, with a footprint below 1.73 gha per person, is not necessarily sustainable, because the quality of the footprint may still lead to ecological destruction. If a country does not have enough ecological resources within its own territory to cover its population's footprint, then it runs an ecological deficit and the country is termed an ecological debtor. Otherwise, it has an ecological reserve and it is called a creditor.In order to preserve survivability and a long-term and sustainable human population it will be necessary that biocapacity is higher or equal than ecological footprint. Otherwise all the natural capacities and reserves of earth will once be used and cause a collaps and catastrophy. There are three ways to achieve this:

Increase the biocapacity

Decrease the ecological footprint

Population policyAssuming biocapacity and ecological footprint will stay the same when population changes, the difference between biocapacity and ecological footprint multiplied with the actual population will result in the population where biocapacity equals the ecological footprint. In 2019 this will be 1.73 / 2.84 * 7.63 = 4,65 billion people. In fact it can be higher because biocapacity in global hectares per capita will increase when population shrinks. To achieve this balance will take generations and to force it for example with one child policy is not a good option. Better is education to give people a perspective and better job opportunities. The population in many industry countries is also overaged but to solve this problem with more children will cause problems for them when they get old themselves and need even more children to supply them. On an earth with limited space and resources the system with many young people taking care of fewer old will not work forever and endless physical growth is not possible. So there will be a time when more older than young people will live on earth. In this period robots, automation and artificial intelligence may make life more pleasant for the elderly.

Natural capital accounting

Natural capital accounting is the process of calculating the total stocks and flows of natural resources and services in a given ecosystem or region. Accounting for such goods may occur in physical or monetary terms. This process can subsequently inform government, corporate and consumer decision making as each relates to the use or consumption of natural resources and land, and sustainable behaviour.

Netherlands fallacy

The Netherlands fallacy refers to an error Paul R. Ehrlich and his co-authors claim others make in assuming that the environmental impacts of the Netherlands and other rich nations are contained within their national borders.

Ecologists since the late 20th century have analyzed the ecological sink status and sink capacities of poor nations. As polluting industries migrate from rich to poor nations, the national ecological footprint of rich nations shrinks, whereas the international ecological footprint may increase or also decrease. The nature of the fallacy is to ignore increasing environmental damage in many developing nations and in international waters attributable to the imported goods or changes in the economy of such nations directly due to developed nations.

Such an approach may lead to incorrect assertions such as the environmental impact of a particular developed country is reducing, when a holistic, international approach suggests the opposite. This may in turn support over-optimistic predictions toward the improvement of global environmental conditions.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is generally defined as cotton that is grown organically in subtropical countries such as India, Turkey, China, and parts of the USA from non-genetically modified plants, and without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. Its production is supposed to promote and enhance biodiversity and biological cycles. In the United States, cotton plantations must also meet the requirements enforced by the National Organic Program (NOP) from the USDA in order to be considered organic. This institution determines the allowed practices for pest control, growing, fertilizing, and handling of organic crops.As of 2007, 265,517 bales of organic cotton were produced in 24 countries and worldwide production was growing at a rate of more than 50% per year. In the 2016/2017 season, annual global production reached 3.2 million metric tonnes.


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.

Generally, the discussion of overconsumption parallels that of human overpopulation; that is the more people, the more consumption of raw materials takes place to sustain their lives. But, humanity's overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors besides the raw number of people. Their lifestyle (including overall affluence and resource utilization) and the pollution they generate (including carbon footprint) are equally important. Currently, the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population (7.4 billion people).However, the developing world is a growing market of consumption. These nations are quickly gaining more purchasing power and it is expected that the Global South, which includes cities in Asia, Latin America and Africa, will account for 56% of consumption growth by 2030. This means that consumption rates will plateau for the developed nations and shift more into these developing countries.

The theory of overpopulation reflects issues of carrying capacity without taking into account per capita consumption, by which developing nations are evaluated to consume more than their land can support. The United Nations estimate that world population will reach 9.8 billion in the year 2050 and 11.2 in 2100. This growth will be highly concentrated in the developing nations which also poses issues with inequality of consumption. The nations that will come into consumer dominance must abstain from abusing certain forms of consumption, especially energy consumption of CO2. Green parties and the ecology movement often argue that consumption per person, or ecological footprint, is typically lower in poorer than in richer nations.

Sustainability metrics and indices

Sustainable metrics and indices are measures of sustainability, and attempt to quantify beyond the generic concept. Though there are disagreements among those from different disciplines (and influenced by different political beliefs about the nature of the good society), these disciplines and international organizations have each offered measures or indicators of how to measure the concept.

While sustainability indicators, indices and reporting systems gained growing popularity in both the public and private sectors, their effectiveness in influencing actual policy and practices often remains limited.

Transport in Antarctica

Transport in Antarctica has transformed from explorers crossing the isolated remote area of Antarctica by foot to a more open era due to human technologies enabling more convenient and faster transport, predominantly by air and water, as well as land.

Transportation technologies on a remote area like Antarctica need to be able to deal with extremely low temperatures and continuous winds to ensure the travelers' safety. Due to the fragility of the Antarctic environment, only a limited amount of transport movements can take place and sustainable transportation technologies have to be used to reduce the ecological footprint.

The infrastructure of land, water and air transport needs to be safe and sustainable.

Currently thousands of tourists and hundreds of scientists a year depend on the Antarctic transportation system.

William E. Rees

William Rees, FRSC (born December 18, 1943), is a professor at the University of British Columbia and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC.

Rees has taught at the University of British Columbia since 1969-70. His primary interest is in public policy and planning relating to global environmental trends and the ecological conditions for sustainable socioeconomic development. He is the originator of the "ecological footprint" concept and co-developer of the method.

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