Footprint Calculator Frequently Asked Questions

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What follows is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the personal Ecological Footprint calculator. If you have a question about the Ecological Footprint that is not addressed here, please also see our FAQ page or our Technical FAQ . You may also send your question to calculator@footprintnetwork.org.

Why is Calgary on the map, but not Canada? Why are only some countries available?

To create these calculators, Global Footprint Network works with local partners to gather regional data on resource consumption. We created the Calgary city calculator as part of our partnership with the City of Calgary. Canada residents can take the Calgary quiz or the US quiz to get approximate results. Global Footprint Network is inviting corporate, government and NGO partners to help us add additional cities and countries. Please email calculator@footprintnetwork.org if you would like more details.

How does the Personal Footprint calculator work?

The personal Footprint calculator is based on National Footprint Accounts data for selected nations. The national per person Footprint can be allocated to different end-use categories (food, shelter, mobility, goods and services), and land types (forest, cropland, energy, fish, grazing land). This results in a matrix that uses a country’s average consumption profile to distribute Ecological Footprint into these different categories.

The personal calculator asks questions that increase or decrease different parts of this matrix relative to national average behavior. For example, if a person indicates that they eat twice as much beef as the national average, their “beef” Footprint will double, which will be reflected in the re-calculated overall Footprint score. Likewise, someone who indicates they eat very little beef will receive a fraction of the national average beef Footprint, which will be reflected in a smaller overall Footprint.

What is the average Footprint for someone in my country?

Please refer to the Data and Results page and click on “2010 Data Tables” for more information on the average Footprint in your nation.

What happened to the old Footprint quiz?

This Footprint quiz is based on updated National Footprint Accounts data and standards, and replaces an outdated methodology that was not standards compliant.

We are working to expand the calculator to other nations. Please email calculator@footprintnetwork.org if you would like more details about sponsoring a new nation in the Footprint calculator.

How is this calculator different from other Footprint calculators, and which should I use?

There are a number of online Ecological Footprint calculators in use today. When evaluating other Ecological Footprint calculators, the most important consideration is whether the calculator is actually measuring the Ecological Footprint and not just using the term “Footprint” as a proxy for general environmental impact.

These calculators may offer interesting insights but they are not aligned with the international Ecological Footprint Standards, which were adopted in 2006 in order to ensure that Footprint studies are both credible and consistent. The Ecological Footprint, as defined by the Ecological Footprint standards, calculates how much biologically productive area is required to produce the resources for the human population and to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions. Consistency across applications will encourage even more widespread adoption of the Ecological Footprint, increasing its effectiveness as a catalyst for a sustainable future.

For comparable and credible Ecological Footprint calculator results, look for transparent information on the methodology, and check to see if the calculator was created by a Global Footprint Network partner, as partnership requires compliance with Ecological Footprint standards.

How is this calculator different from a carbon footprint calculator?

Carbon calculators typically calculate the amount of carbon a person is responsible for through their daily activities (in tons).

Global Footprint Network’s Footprint calculator represents the amount of land and sea area needed to provide the resources a person needs (food, shelter, etc.), and absorb their carbon dioxide emissions. The Ecological Footprint is expressed in global hectares, or in global acres for the US calculator.

The carbon component of the Ecological Footprint can be converted to tonnes of carbon with a simple conversion factor (dividing by 2.8 x 105 global hectares, or 691,895 global acres per ton of carbon dioxide per year) for comparison to other measures. However, carbon calculators do not represent the entire Ecological Footprint of an individual and cannot be compared directly to a Footprint score.

Why can’t I get my Footprint score within the means of one planet?

A person’s Ecological Footprint includes both personal and societal impacts. The Footprint associated with food, mobility, and goods is easier for you to directly influence through lifestyle choices (eating less meat, driving less, etc). However a person’s Footprint also includes societal impacts or “services”, such as government assistance, roads and infrastructure, public services, and the military of the country that they live in. All citizens of the country are allocated their share of these societal impacts.

The Footprint of these societal impacts (i.e. the “services” category of your Footprint score) does not vary, and therefore in some nations it is not possible to reduce your Footprint to below one planet.

This is why, if we want to achieve sustainability, we need to focus on two things: both our own lifestyle as well as influencing our governments. Even with significant changes in individual behavior, a large portion of a personal Footprint comes from the way national infrastructure is designed, goods are produced, and government and public services operate.

In order to allow their citizens to achieve a lifestyle that fits within one planet, governments need to dramatically improve the efficiency of the built environment and invest in renewable energy and smart land-use planning.

What are some examples of what it looks like to live within one planet in a developed nation?

Achieving a lifestyle that fits within the means of our planet is difficult given today’s lifestyles and will likely require technologies and management practices that are still being developed. Many communities have taken steps to decrease their Footprint, including the BedZed community in Beddington UK, which uses building design and renewable energy power to create a zero-energy-use community. Other examples include plans for eco-cities in China and the United Arab Emirates. These communities generally focus their efforts on sustainable transport and food systems, as these are major components of a person’s personal Footprint.

What goes into the “services” category of my Footprint?

Your Footprint includes activities in the services category that are not considered personal, but societal. These areas include (but are not limited to) health care, entertainment, restaurants, real estate, legal services, government and the military. These services are not variable in the calculator: everyone taking the quiz has a portion of their nation’s “services” Footprint allocated to them.

Why isn’t there an option to choose walking or biking as my primary mode of transportation

In this calculator, the Footprint benefit of walking or cycling is counted indirectly if you use these means of transport to replace driving or public transportation. Thus a person who bikes to work would have a much smaller Footprint associated with driving. Walking or bicycling for recreation is not given a Footprint score.

Do I get credit in the calculator for positive actions I take?

The Footprint measures a person’s demand on ecosystems services: the amount of land and sea area needed to produce the goods they use and absorb their carbon dioxide emissions. Many positive actions such as planting trees and recycling do not directly reduce the amount of area needed to support each person.

There are some places in the calculator where positive personal choices can improve your Footprint score. For example, an individual who eats locally grown food reduces their overall Footprint by decreasing the amount of energy needed to transport their food. This action is captured through questions in the calculator about the origin of your purchased food.

Actions such as planting trees on barren land can increase global biocapacity, helping to move humanity out of overshoot and toward living with the means of one planet. However, this action may not directly reduce a person’s overall Footprint.

Finally, there are some aspects of environmental impact not captured by the Ecological Footprint. For example, actions such as switching to less-toxic cleaning products are not measured by the calculator.

Why is there no question about how many children I have or plan to have?

Every individual on Earth has their own Footprint, including children and infants. Each additional person puts more pressure on our ecological resources.

Although you may be responsible for the care of children, they have their own individual Footprint just as an adult does. Including the Footprint of these children with the Footprint of their parents would result in double counting.

A family or household Footprint can be calculated by adding up the individual Footprints of the family members.

Why are there no questions about my job?

The Footprint associated with activities at a business or organization is part of the personal Footprint of the people who use the services or products produced there. For example, the Footprint of electricity for lighting within an automobile factory is part of the personal Footprint of the people who buy the cars, not the people who work in the factory.

For organizations that do not produce a tangible good or service, the Footprint of running that organization is included in the overall national Footprint of production and averaged over the population.