Ecological Footprints


Challenge: To reduce our per capita ecofootprint, to both accommodate an increasing population and to return land to nature, to protect biodiversity.

Each person's (city's, country's) ecological footprint is the amount of land and water we deprive from nature in order to support our lifestyle - to produce the resources we consume; to assimilate the wastes we produce.

Nature uses land and water to maintain and extend biodiversity. Much of the Earth's biodiversity is under threat because so much land and water has been taken for agriculture that many ecosystems have insufficient resources to sustain themselves. (Other biodiversity threats include global warming.)

We need to return land and water to nature in order to protect biodiversity. In addition, we should increase the ecological productivity of land now set aside for nature.*

The challenge is to reduce the world per capita ecofootprint, to both accomodate increasing population levels and to return land to nature in order to protect biodiversity.

Pressures against reducing the world per capita footprint include:

* (Ecological productivity is the contribution to biodiversity of a given area of land. Biodiversity being the number, complexity and diversity of biological species and the interconnections between them within an ecosystem. Biodiversity being valuable because it is a knowledge resource; an economic resource - without enough of it we die; and because it is slow to re-establish once lost.)


Ecological Overshoot

Do We Fit On The Planet? Sharon Ede. Urban Ecology Australia. 2002

All human beings, whatever their lifestyles, generate impacts on nature, but this is not a concern provided our impacts are within the means of nature, that is within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere.

Once the biological carrying capacity of the planet is exceeded, "development" occurs through the liquidation of the planet's natural capital stock, switching from the reproductive use of the resource base, which leaves it intact, to an extractive use, which reduces the total store. Instead of living off the Earth's "interest", humanity begins draining the Earth's "capital", and we move into what is termed "ecological overshoot".


What is an Ecological Footprint?

Ecological Footprint Analysis. Mathis Wackernagel. Global Vision. 2002.9

The ecological footprint is a very simple tool to tell us how much nature do we have, how much do we use. We need to look at the ecological footprint to look at the health of the ecosystem services that support our economy. We can do that at the global level, the national level, the city level or even at the individual level. When cities start to measure their own ecological footprint, they have a comprehensive tool to see whether they're moving in the right direction.

How Much Bioproductive Land Is Available?

Ecological Footprints of Nations 2002 (PDF). Mathis Wackernagel, Chad Monfreda, and Diana Deumling, Redefining Progress

How Much Nature Do They Use?

How Much Nature Do They Have?

The Ecological Footprint is the area of biologically productive land needed to maintain the material throughput of the human economy - to produce the resources consumed and to assimilate the wastes produced using prevailing technology.

Only 9.1 billion hectares of land (1.4 ha / person) and 2.3 billion hectares (0.3 ha / person) of water provide economically useful concentrations of resources to be considered biologically productive. The remaining 39.6 billion hectares are marginally productive or unproductive for human use, as they are the deep oceans, are covered by ice, or lack fertile soils and accessible water.

Humanity exceeds the Earth’s biological capacity by 20 percent. An increasing human population with a growing appetite for resources continues to exacerbate the global ecological deficit. As a consequence of this overuse, the human economy is liquidating the Earth’s natural capital.

Satisfying Lives For All Within The Means Of Nature:
How A Honed GRI Could Advance True Sustainability

Global Reporting Initiative - Commissioned Feedback


Paul Hawken and Mathis Wackernagel

Sustainability is not possible unless humanity lives within the means of the planet’s biological capacity, and will not be achieved unless all people experience well-being, health, and security.

World Wide Fund for Nature - Living Planet Report 2002



Ensuring access to basic resources and improving the health and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people cannot be tackled separately from maintaining the integrity of natural ecosystems. By continuing to abuse the biosphere, and through the inequitable sharing of the Earth’s resources, we undermine the chances of eradicating poverty, and put the whole of humanity under the threat of global climate change.


Mathis Wackernagel

Dr Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint concept, is Director of the Sustainablity Program at Redefining Progress.


Redefining Progress

Redefining Progress (RP) works with a broad array of partners to shift the economy and public policy towards sustainability. RP: