Ecological footprint: definition, calculator and examples

ecological footprint

Depending on the way we live, we put more or less pressure on the environment. By measuring our ecological footprint, we can limit our impact on the planet and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by our daily activities, thus acting against global warming.


What is ecological footprint?

The ecological footprint is a measure of the pressure that humans exert on the planet. It is expressed in global hectares (gha) or in the number of planets, 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, measured in CO2 equivalent, takes into account all greenhouse gases and is used to assess the impact of human activities on the environment.

These two indicators therefore make it possible in two different ways to raise people's awareness of their carbon impact and to encourage them to act against global warming by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

In 2020, the date has been set for 22nd August, compared to 29th July in 2019 (three weeks later). According to the Global Footprint Network, this is due to a decrease in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere caused by measures taken to fight the COVID19 epidemic and the global slowdown of human activities. Also, this current phenomenon proves that policy makers are able to act quickly and could put in place real sustainable development policies.

UK's 2021 overshoot day is on 19th May.

How is ecological footprint 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 enable people to calculate their ecological footprint more easily, the WWF offers 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 ecological footprint?

reduce ecological footprint

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

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

  • 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...

Ecological footprint by country 2021

Not all countries exert the same pressure on the Earth. In fact, 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 UK’s ecological footprint in 2021

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!

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