Footprint Network Blog - Carbon Footprint

How Switzerland made history with green economy vote

Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network - 09/26/2016 01:47 PM

This weekend, Switzerland made world history, even though not as much as we would have liked.

Switzerland was the first country to vote on whether to implement a green economy. The green economy ballot initiative encouraged resource efficiency and implementation of a circular economy. On top of that, it set a specific goal – to reduce Switzerland’s resource consumption to a level that could be replicated worldwide. Currently we would need three Earths if everybody lived like the Swiss. The goal in the ballot initiative was to get to one Earth by 2050.

The Swiss constitution already recognizes the need to live within the means of nature. Article 73 states that the “Confederation and the Cantons shall endeavour to achieve a balanced and sustainable relationship between nature and its capacity to renew itself and the demands placed on it by the population.” But it does not set a deadline to achieve this goal.

The initiative created debate, some of which is documented on our new website (mostly German), (watch out, Switzerland). However, the biggest confusion in the debate was the following: is it in the self-interest of Switzerland to act aggressively?

A positive starting point was that most parties recognized the need to manage our resources carefully and that we have to live, ultimately, within the means of the planet – particularly if the “we” is humanity. Proponents claimed that to reach the 2-degrees Celsius goal adopted in the Paris climate agreement, Footprint reductions were required. They also argued that most innovations are spurred by ambitious goals, and that Switzerland’s environmental achievements in clean water and air were accelerated by aggressive political targets.

The green economy campaign was careful to not push fear, but to make it a positive, friendly, fun proposition. The opponents played the fear card, calling the initiative “expensive green coercion.” They said it would lead to cold showers ( and an import stop for cocoa. Opponents argued that 2050 is too soon, and that the transformation would be too harsh for the Swiss economy.

Interestingly enough, economic actors were divided. Some vigorously opposed while others, such as IKEA, favored a one-planet economy.

How did the vote turn out?

Early on, polling showed substantial positive interest, but as voters got closer to casting their ballot, the fear of change eroded the early advantage. Still, 36% of voters cast a “yes” for living within the means of one planet. Geneva was the only canton in Switzerland with a majority in favor of the initiative.

The fact that a country would hold such a vote, and that so many recognize the need for a significant shift in the way we use resources is a global historical precedent. We regret how little this significant debate was covered in world news. It is these topics we need to discuss when exploring how to build a future that works for all within the means of our one and only planet (until Elon Musk brings us to Mars…).

Big Ideas: Footprint calculator sparks provocative discussions at universities worldwide

Vivian Bi, Global Footprint Network - 08/24/2016 07:42 PM

Jessica Piekielek of Southern Oregon University asks sociology and anthropology students to calculate Footprints based in other countries to compare and discuss results.

Kirsten Balding at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, is a huge advocate of using Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint calculator to teach students about sustainability. “It is a really engaging way for students to measure their consumption of resources,” says Balding. “It’s a very clear and simple way of communicating a complex concept—that also presents solutions too!”

And she doesn’t just refer to the calculator in a single class session of her sustainability course, but refers to the results over the entirety of the course.

From Australia to the United States, university students and teachers across the world have contacted Global Footprint Network over the years to praise and offer ideas for improving the Ecological Footprint calculator.

It’s not only in environmental science courses that the Footprint calculator is proving a thought-provoking instructional tool. Jessica Piekielek, who teaches sociology and anthropology at Southern Oregon University, has taken advantage of the calculator in her Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class to talk about global population growth, development, and social inequality. “I especially appreciate that students can experiment with calculating Footprints based in other countries, so that we can compare results and discuss,” she notes.

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One-planet living: Switzerland’s next commitment?

08/24/2016 02:17 AM

On September 25, Swiss voters will head to the polls to decide on a bold initiative to put Switzerland on the path of a green economy. Initiated by members of the Green Party and the Social Democrats, this ballot initiative builds on the Ecological Footprint: If passed, it will incorporate the sustainable use of natural resources into the country’s constitution, and becoming the first country in the world to commit to one-planet living by 2050.

Switzerland currently consumes four times what Swiss ecosystems can regenerate. And if everyone in the world lived like the Swiss, we would need 3.3 planets.

To reach one-planet living by 2050, the Swiss would have to reduce their average per-person Ecological Footprint by more than two thirds, to at most 1.7 global hectares. This is the current capacity of the world’s renewable resources on a per-person basis. (The target would actually fall even further if populations globally continue to rise.)

The Swiss initiative also calls for a “circular economy strategy,” including measures to adopt new product regulations, encourage recycling, and promote research and innovation.

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Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator Scores High Marks in High Schools

Vivian Bi, Global Footprint Network - 07/20/2016 09:58 PM

Reports card’s out! High schools around the world are starting to integrate the Footprint calculators into their curriculums. Governments and organizations, including the United Nations and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are also catching on to the importance of environmental education in meeting long-term sustainability goals.

So how did today’s students do on the quiz? Teachers found that students were often times surprised at how large their Footprint was compared to others, leaving even the most eco-conscious students wondering what more they can do to protect Earth. By putting into perspective their own footprints, students can understand their personal impact on the world’s resources and begin to make choices that will collectively change the course of our future.

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Can China transform into an ecological civilization?

07/05/2016 10:31 PM

Creating an economy that operates in harmony with nature is the centerpiece of China President Xi Jinpig’s vision of transforming the country into an ecological civilization.

Can China become such a civilization?

To find out, we engaged with the Province of Guizhou. We are launching the results of our close collaboration with the province on Wednesday, July 6, at the EcoForum Global conference with a report titled "The Guizhou Footprint Report: Metrics for an Ecological Civilization."

Without a doubt, China is facing steep challenges: growing resource demand far beyond its own ecological resources and services; heavy dependence on fossil fuels; and growing expectations among citizens, with many people, particularly in rural areas, still needing to be lifted out of harsh economic conditions.

The Guizhou Footprint Report was created with financial support from the Swiss government. With mountainous ecosystems, rich biodiversity, and diverse people, Guizhou Province is a unique region of China that shares geographic similarities with Switzerland. So the report also includes a comparison of the two countries, China and Switzerland.

Here are some findings that highlight the challenges that Guizhou is facing:

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Can the UK survive on its own?

06/24/2016 11:11 AM

In the wake of the stunning Brexit vote results, we ask, what does it take to the support the UK’s demand for natural resources? Consider this:

The UK’s forest land only covers 3% of UK resident’s demand for forest products and carbon emissions sequestration. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use make up 63 percent of the UK’s overall demand for nature, or its Ecological Footprint.

If the UK used all of its forests for forest products only (and nothing for carbon sequestration), they would meet only 27% of UK residents’ demand for forest products, including timber for building and paper. This means that nearly three-quarter of the UK’s demand for forest products is met by other countries.

The UK’s grazing lands meet only 42% of UK residents’ demand for grazing products – primarily meat and dairy. More than half of the demand is met by resources beyond its borders.

The UK covers 72% of its demand for crops with resources within its borders. In other words, it is relying on the resources of other countries to meet more than one quarter (28%) of its citizens demands for crops.

Overall, the UK requires 3.8 times more than what the UK’s ecosystems can renew including the sequestration of carbon from fossil fuel use. If all fossil carbon was magically sequestered, the UK would still require 1.4 UKs to meet its citizens’ remaining demand, leaving no space for wild species inhabiting the UK.

Even after the vote, the UK is far from independent. It seems that the Brits may be underestimating their reliance on the rest of the world to meet their demand for natural resources.

PRI calls for systematic integration of ESG in credit ratings

Susan Burns, Co-Founder and Director of Finance for Change - 04/25/2016 10:55 AM

Global Footprint Network first began encouraging greater environmental risk integration into bond credit analysis five years ago. Since then, a growing number of fixed income investors are following suit. We are particularly delighted by the recent announcement PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), an influential investor group who is calling on credit rating agencies to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into their credit analysis more systematically and transparently.

Some of the world’s major rating agencies last June confirmed their willingness to participate in a project to make this vision a reality. Now the PRI is calling on fixed-income investors to sign a Statement on ESG in Credit Ratings before its official launch on Friday, May 6, to be at forefront of this call to action.

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Celebrating Trees on Earth Day

04/22/2016 12:03 AM


Together with our partner Earth Day Network, we’re happy to give trees a special nod today.

At Global Footprint Network, we have a soft spot for trees and forests. They are an essential pool of biodiversity. And they are one of our most important ecological assets: A whopping 70 percent of humanity’s Ecological Footprint is comprised of demand for forest products (paper, timber, etc.) and carbon capture, an ecological service that forests provide.

In fact, even if the whole Earth were covered with forests, we still wouldn’t have enough to meet our current demand for their products and services…Besides, we obviously need to leave some productive land available for crops to feed us.

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ENERGY LAB (Zürich, 10. Mai 2016)

03/21/2016 03:53 PM

Im Energy Lab suchten wir nach den gemeinsamen Eckpunkten und Grundprinzipien der diversen Teilnehmer für eine Energiepolitik der Schweiz nach dem Pariser Klima Abkommen.

Energy Lab: Wie werden wir die Schweiz antreiben?

Der Klimawandel stellt die zukünftige Nutzung fossiler Energie in Frage. Heute kann die Schweiz nur 56% seiner Elektrizität durch Wasserkraft produzieren, etwa 13% ihres gesamten Energieverbrauchs. Achtzig Prozent der verbrauchten Energie kommt aus dem Ausland, mit nur wenigen Prozenten davon aus erneuerbaren Quellen.

Wir ladeten Experten, Politikern, NGO Vertretern und Studenten zu einer interaktiven Debatte ein, um gemeinsame Prinzipien für die zukünftige Schweizer Energielandschaft zu entdecken. Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer wurden aufgefordert, ihre persönliche Sicht für die Schweiz zu erörtern.

Sind wir bereit, unsere persönlichen Träume für die Zukunft zu offenbaren? Was haben unsere Träume gemeinsam? Wo scheiden sich unsere Perspektiven? Was steht zur Debatte? Gibt es einen attraktiven Weg in die Zukunft? Sie sind gefragt, einen Beitrag zu leisten, gemeinsam mit anderen Schweizern eine Zukunftsvision für unsere Schweiz zu entwickeln.

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National Footprint Accounts 2016 are out! Carbon makes up 60% of world’s Ecological Footprint

03/08/2016 11:00 PM

Global Footprint Network launches its 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts today, featuring a refined carbon Footprint calculation. 

The updated calculation has revealed that the global carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated, with a consequent 8 percent increase in the global Ecological Footprint. The carbon Footprint makes up 60 percent of the world’s Ecological Footprint. 

We are happy to make the National Footprint Accounts available in a free downloadable version for research, education and non-commercial purposes (scroll down for more details). An interactive map and country rankings based on the National Footprint Accounts 2016 are available at Watch a video explaining the National Footprint Accounts here. If you are interested in attending a webinar on the Footprint Accounts, please email

The annual maintenance of the National Footprint Accounts involves incorporating the most recent data (2012) from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Comtrade database, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and other sources. 

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