Ecological footprint: definition, meaning and calculator

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ecological footprint

The way we, as humans, live on Earth puts pressure on the environment. This is known as our ecological footprint. By measuring our ecological footprint, we can gain insight into our impact on the planet and work to reduce the number of greenhouse gases produced by our daily activities, thus acting against global warming.

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What is an ecological footprint?

An ecological footprint is a measure of the pressure that humans exert on the planet. It is expressed in global hectares (gha), or by number of planets, and it allows us to estimate the land surface needed by each individual to provide for their needs.

Carbon footprint or ecological footprint?

The carbon footprint takes into account all greenhouse gases and is used to assess the impact of human activities on the environment. Carbon footprints can be individual, for a country, or global.

These indicators, ecological footprints and carbon footprints, are two different ways to educate people about their environmental impact and encourage them to modify their habits, act against global warming, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

For the past ten years, the date of Earth Overshoot Day has been decreasing. This date corresponds to the moment when humans have already consumed the resources that the planet can produce in one year.

For 2020, Earth Overshoot Day was the 22nd of August, compared to the 29th of July in 2019 (only three weeks earlier). According to the Global Footprint Network, this is due to changes in human activity during COVID-19 and measures taken to fight the epidemic and proves that policymakers can act quickly and are able to put real, sustainable, developmental policies in place.

The UK's 2021 overshoot day was on the 19th of May.

How is the global ecological footprint calculated and measured?

calculation ecological footprint

The calculation of the ecological footprint takes into account the following two factors:

  1. The Earth's biocapacity, i.e. the planet's capacity to produce resources;
  2. Human activity and its ecological impact, i.e. the resources consumed by humans and their waste.

The resources consumed by each individual are subtracted from the resources generated by the planet over a year. The ecological footprint is measured in global hectares. On average, a European would need 4.5 hectares, while a North American would need 6.6 hectares and an African 2.7.

The results of this calculation on a global scale show that the planet's capacity to meet the needs of its inhabitants is insufficient.

WWF ecological footprint calculator

To help people calculate their ecological footprint more easily, the WWF has a free online ecological footprint calculator.

Note that the calculator is intended for people living in Switzerland, but it gives you an idea of the ecological impact of your consumption habits.

Reducing the global ecological footprint is therefore everyone's concern, which is why each of us must act at our own level by adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.

You can also calculate your ecological footprint with the Global Footprint Network.

How to reduce your ecological footprint?

reduce ecological footprint

A significant part of the ecological footprint is due to greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. In fact, the ecological footprint of individuals predominantly depends on their lifestyle.

In order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and so reduce one's ecological footprint, it is imperative to change people's lifestyles by adopting some simple habits:

  • Reduce your meat consumption;
  • Recycle and give new life to materials;
  • Optimise your energy consumption;
  • Opt for a green energy company;
  • Produce your own energy;
  • Move sustainably...

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Ecological footprint by country: examples in 2022

Not all countries exert the same pressure on the Earth, and the ecological footprint of a country is calculated from the ecological footprint of its inhabitants.

According to the Global Footprint Network, in 2016 the global ecological footprint was 2.7 hag for a biocapacity of 1.6 hag. This means that 1.7 planets were needed to cover the needs of humans that year.

The ecological footprint of the UK in 2022

The UK's ecological footprint was 4.2 hag for a biocapacity of 1.1 hag. It would therefore take:

  • 2.6 planets to meet the needs of humans if they all adopted a lifestyle similar to that of the average British person;
  • 3.9 countries like the UK to meet its own needs.

The country continues to consume more resources than it can produce.

Read more about environmental protection and the fight against global warming in our other guides!