Footprint Network Blog

What happens when an infinite-growth economy runs into a finite planet?

06/28/2012 10:43 PM

Debt boils over. Energy trumps safety. Biodiversity is for sale. And more.

Resource consumption trends put us on an ecological collision course, risking economic and social stability as we bump up against natural limits. Working within nature’s budget builds the foundation for securing our future. Read our 2011 Annual Report to learn more. 



Competitiveness 2.0: A Q&A with Robert Rapier

06/28/2012 06:02 PM

Energy expert Robert Rapier, the Chief Technology Officer at Merica International, writes and speaks about issues involving energy and the environment. Merica , a privately held energy company, is involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations.
In this second of a two-part series on Competitiveness 2.0, one of Global Footprint Network’s strategic programs, the Consumer Energy Report columnist and author of “Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil” explains below how energy constraints are becoming so central to a nation’s competitiveness.

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The Future We Want After Rio+20

Global Footprint Network - 06/25/2012 08:35 PM

This is our advice to any national leader: Global collaboration on sustainability would be wonderful. But short of agreements, the risks for each country posed by global resource constraints becomes ever more acute.

In other words, the need for your country to manage your supply of and demand for natural resources becomes more significant in the absence of global agreements and commitments and as global overshoot trends continue unabated. Don’t squander your future by waiting for others to act first. Nations ignore the links between resource constraints and their economies at their own peril.

We wish nations would have approached Rio+20 from that spirit. Recognizing that life for them gets easier with an agreement–that agreements are not about giving something up, but about gaining something for all. Because global agreements would make it safer and easier for everybody. And that is what the Rio+20 Earth Summit was supposed to deliver. Yet Rio+20 officially concluded Friday on a whimper, and the 49-page outcome document, The Future We Want, is being met widely with sharp criticism—even “anger and dismay,” as the Guardian newspaper put it.

With no concrete timetables, commitments, financing, or new ways to monitor sustainable development goals, many civil society groups and delegates have declared it weak and watered down—at best a collaborative document reaffirming sustainable development goals and future negotiations, pointing vaguely in the right direction; at worst a meaningless piece of paper, a waste of time, a “failure of epic proportions.” A Copenhagen 2009 (COP 15) redux, but with more at stake.

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Categories: Ecological Limits

Global Footprint Network Team on the Ground for Rio+20

Global Footprint Network - 06/21/2012 06:16 PM

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro is the place to be this week for those interested in global cooperation for a sustainable future. The Global Footprint Network team has been participating in Rio+20 events for the past two weeks. In particular, President Mathis Wackernagel, Research Scientist and Science Coordinator Kyle Gracey, and Director of External Affairs Kath Delaney have been engaged on the ground advancing our Ecological Footprint work.

We’ve rounded up a few of the highlights below.

To kick things off, Kyle participated in the Seventh Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA), providing an update on the Ecological Footprint methodology. He then joined Dr. Richard Mattison of Trucost (UK) and Dr. Ashok Kumar Chapagain of WWF-UK in a panel organized by Michael Becker of WWF-Brazil, to clarify for decision-makers the strengths and weaknesses of the “footprint family” of indicators known as Ecological Footprint, Water Footprint and Carbon Footprint.

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Categories: Ecological Limits

New Report Looks at Africa’s Fast-Growing Ecological Footprint

06/14/2012 11:12 PM

Dear Friends

Global Footprint Network congratulates African Development Bank (AfDB) and WWF for The Africa Ecological Footprint Report: Green Infrastructure for Africa’s Ecological Security. This benchmark study of the health of Africa’s ecosystems and resource trends, which has been covered by Le Monde and other media, reports a decline of nearly 50 percent in Africa’s biodiversity in the last four decades, but also offers recommendations on implementing the green economy concept through improved infrastructure investments.

The joint report, backed by Global Footprint Network data, shows that population growth and changing consumption patterns linked to increasing prosperity are causing Africa’s total Footprint to increase rapidly.

Indeed, Global Footprint Network estimates that the continent’s Ecological Footprint—that is, the population’s demand for the resources and services that Earth provides—is expected to double by 2040. Meanwhile, the ability of Africa’s ecosystems to meet these demands, or “biocapacity,” is unlikely to increase enough to match the growing Footprint.

Global Footprint Network’s data show that if current trends continue, Africa’s resource demand will outstrip domestic availability by 2015. The continent as a whole would then be in ecological overshoot.

Ecological Footprint and biocapacity per capita trend lines, from 1961 to 2008, show an almost continuous decrease in the availability of natural resources(biocapacity) for everybody. In several countries ( Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe, for example) , the size of the Footprint per person is also decreasing, largely because their ability to access resources is limited by the country’s biocapacity and because their financial constraints for importing resources from elsewhere. Without reversing these trends, progress in human development is unlikely to last.

Africa’s overall story masks the rich variety of situations and trends of individual countries. As the national Ecological Footprint of countries such as Uganda and Zimbabwe has been growing, population growth has driven down both per capita Footprint size and availability of domestic biocapacity. In short, many countries’ total consumption of ecological resources and services has been increasing while their citizens are able to use less and less resources.

Many low-income countries lack the economic ability to cope with the growing need to access external resources, especially as prices reach historical peaks. As they burn through their natural capital to meet current demand, they face an increasingly dire future: a growing demand for resources, less biocapacity to meet this demand, and little financial assets to buy resources from abroad.

In contrast, countries with large financial current account surpluses, such as Nigeria and other oil or mineral exporters, have long run biocapacity deficits but have had the means to import resources. Their ability to use fossil fuel also allows them to use the global atmosphere as a waste sink for the corresponding CO2. But even without considering carbon emissions,  this dependency on resources from elsewhere, and the need to sell off one’s non-renewable resource stocks, puts these countries’ economies at risk if revenues are not used to secure a sustainable future.


Global Footprint Network’s data show that access to, and sustainable management of, resources is becoming increasingly critical to a country’s economic performance and a key to its future competitiveness. Economic growth in past decades has often been accompanied by increasing resource consumption to levels that are no longer sustainable. Indeed, to maintain their consumption levels, many countries are increasing imports, overusing biological stocks or increasing their dependence on the global commons.

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for African nations to improve their quality of life, and to do that in lasting ways. Too easily, development that is dependent on resources that are not available gives only short-lived solutions. Global Footprint Network’s research in Africa with WWF, UNESCO and other international organizations leaves us confident that there’s still time to reverse these destructive trends, so long as nations have the will and the tools to track their progress.


Taking the Ecological Footprint to the Masses

06/12/2012 11:57 PM

An interactive Ecological Footprint exhibit opened last week in Frankfurt’s central train station as part of an effort to educate young people about sustainability and resource trends in advance of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

The exhibition, called “Your Footprint is the future - TAKE CARE,” was organized by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), a Global Footprint Network partner.

“We went back to the tried and tested Footprint because of its clarity and positive nature,” said Rolf Mack, of GIZ. “The Ecological Footprint is the leitmotif of the exhibition.”

The central question the Ecological Footprint tries to answer is: How much productive land and sea area is required to provide the ecological resources and services consumed by a particular population? To help make the Footprint pertinent to individuals, the exhibit includes a computer terminal for individuals to calculate their own personal Footprint.

“It’s also about encouraging people to adopt other mental and behavioral changes towards a ‘sustainable lifestyle,’ GIZ said in announcing the exhibit. “As consumers, we have influence. As consumers, we manage demand. Through conscious and deliberate use of sustainably produced goods, we can contribute to improved living conditions for people and natural world, not only here in Germany, but worldwide.”

Several events and activities were scheduled during the 2-week display, including short educational films, a hands-on activity addressing food waste, and the opportunity for young people to write messages to be delivered to Rio+20 Summit. The exhibit will be open until June 14.

Dr. Wackernagel Wins Prestigious Kenneth E. Boulding Award

06/05/2012 02:29 AM

Dear Supporters,

Global Footprint Network is thrilled to announce that Co-Founder and President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, have been named the winners of the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Award, the world’s top honor in the field of ecological economics.

The International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), made the announcement leading up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), in Rio de Janeiro, where the awards will be presented.

The biennial award is given to “outstanding individuals who have contributed original and seminal approaches that have furthered our understanding of the interfaces between the social, ecological, ethical, economic and political dimensions of our world,” said the ISEE in announcing the award.

Building on Rees’ earlier work on human carrying capacity, Wackernagel and Rees in the early 1990s developed the Ecological Footprint, the world’s premier resource accounting system, to track humanity’s demands on nature. The Ecological Footprint measures the area of productive land and water, or “biocapacity,” required to produce the resources a human population consumes and to absorb its carbon waste.

For the last 10 years, Global Footprint Network has contributed to WWF’s bi-annual flagship publication “The Living Planet Report,” which has become a key publication for Ecological Footprint results. The 2012 edition was released in May from the International Space Station, generating the largest media response of any Living Planet Report so far. The latest Global Footprint Network calculations show that humanity’s demand for bio-resources exceeds the long-term regenerative capacity of Earth by over 50 percent.

“Ever more countries continue to use more resources than they can renew within their own boundaries,” Drs. Wackernagel and Rees said. “Until countries begin tracking and managing their biocapacity deficits, they put not only themselves at risk but, more importantly, the entire planet.”

The award will be presented at the ISEE Conference 2012 in Rio de Janeiro on June 19, where Wackernagel and Rees will deliver the keynote Boulding Award lectures.

Dr. Wackernagel has promoted sustainability on six continents and lectured at more than 100 universities. Dr. Rees is an ecologist, ecological economist, Founding Director of the One Earth Initiative, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993) was President of the American Economics Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Past notable recipients include Herman Daly (American economist, considered the father of Ecological Economics) and Manfred Max-Neef, author of Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation.

We thank you, our valued partners and supporters, for helping to promote our work around the world, and making awards such as these possible as we continue to make ecological limits central to decision-making.

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