The Ecological Footprint as a sustainability indicator adds an important dimension to GDP, and should have equal weight in guiding policy. Such is the conclusion of a committee convened by the European Commission to research policy instruments that could support more balanced decision-making than GDP alone.
“GDP is an important indicator of economic growth, but as an instrument for guiding policy it is inadequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” states the report, issued by the European Economic and Social Committee. In order to craft balanced policy, the report states, other measures are required, in particular those which reflect ecological sustainability and social welfare. The report grew out of the European Commission’s Beyond GDP conference, held in November 2007, which articulated the need for policy instruments that would go beyond measuring economic growth.
The report evaluates a number of ways to broaden the reach of GDP, and ultimately recommends using two indicators alongside GDP: one measuring sustainability and one reflecting social welfare.
The report states that while no effective social indicator yet exists that can measure all the aspects of quality of life, “There is an indicator for measuring sustainability and sustainability trends: namely the ecological footprint.” The report goes on to say, “The footprint is an excellent communication tool and is one of the few – if not the only one – that takes into account the impacts of our consumption and production patters (imports and exports) on other countries.” It cites the Footprint’s utility in comparing the impact of different consumer behaviors, or lifestyles, and different population groups, such as countries.