Footprint Network Blog - Personal Footprint

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.

Balding from RMIT University echoes that sentiment. The calculator, she says, “helps students understand the relevance of sustainability and global ecological overshoot to their own lives and careers, making them realize that sustainability and climate change is their problem too—and not something to leave to ‘someone else’.”

Guénola Nonet, who is a professor in Management and Public Administration at Nova Southeastern University in the United States, uses the Footprint calculator to teach graduate students about sustainability. “The Footprint calculator is fun, insightful and students love using it. We use it to look not only at the mean of the entire class’s Footprint but also students’ individual Footprints. Their comments are astonishing,” Nonet says. “I’m always happy to see the awareness it helps create and often receive comments like ‘I thought I was doing well… Now I see my true impact.’”

University students have been as enthusiastic as instructors about the calculator. Currently available in 11 languages for 16 countries, the calculator is used by both undergraduate and graduate level students for research and other school work.

Students at the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Ecuador research their personal Ecological Footprint. Heydi Fuentes, a student at ESPOL, prefers Global Footprint Network’s Footprint calculator because it includes several lifestyle choices and leads to more precise Footprint results.

Elfe Marschall, a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, wrote, “I find [the calculator] very fascinating and have told my friends and family to check it out!”

Amanda M. Onley-Willette, a student at Midlands Technical College, highlighted the comprehensiveness of the calculator, “especially at the end when the program gives you different suggestions on how you can improve your Footprint.” She added, “Maybe if we got together and collaborated among our different communities, we could come up with more ways to reduce our Footprint as a whole along with ways to improve one’s personal impact.”

Indeed, in a future update of the calculator, Global Footprint Network aims to show the effects of scaling individual action to a larger national or even global level. We also hope to create a new version of the calculator that works on mobile devices.

Please share your experience using the calculator with us at media@footprintnetwork.org or consider supporting the calculator by making a donation at www.footprintnetwork.org/donate.


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.

Educators have also praised the calculator for its animated components, echoing the sentiment that being able to communicate information visually helped teach sustainability to students in a digestible way. The calculator uses Global Footprint Network’s methodology to determine how many planets it takes to sustain each user’s lifestyle.

"Instead of giving just the pounds of carbon, the number of planets helped them understand what their number actually translated to in real life," noted Robin Dick (pictured at right), a teacher at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California. "After they saw how much transportation of food had an effect on their planet number, [students] realized the importance of locally grown produce," Dick added.

With its animated simulations, the quiz is essentially an interactive computer game that is much more appealing to students than a worksheet crowded with numbers and facts, making it an effective and engaging tool for educators in the classroom.

"I used the calculator for my AP environmental science class. I really liked it and so did my students. They loved building their avatars," Karen Jackson, a teacher at Hobbs High School in Hobbs, New Mexico, told us via email.

Two million people took the online Ecological Footprint quiz last year. We hope this is a sign of the emergence of a global ecological worldview and we are excited for the integration of sustainability into more education initiatives. Going forward, we are looking to update the current calculator to work on mobile phones.


Making conservation everybody’s business through Verified Conservation Areas

05/22/2016 09:12 AM

To mark International Day for Biological Diversity, Global Footprint Network is proud to support its partner Earthmind’s innovative program to boost ecosystems’ restoration and biodiversity conservation around the world, mitigating the Ecological Footprint.

What if conserving biodiversity wasn’t just the prerogative of national parks and protected areas? What if conserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems could also be the responsibility of every local government, every business, every community and every individual with stewardship over a productive piece of land? And what if we could recognize and encourage communities, companies and others who conserve nature?

This vision is no pie in the sky. It has been guiding the Verified Conservation Areas (VCA) Approach launched two years ago by Francis Vorhies, the former CEO of Earthwatch Institute Europe and Chief Economist of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“To protect our planet, we need to conserve through management, not just legislation. The VCA approach is about supporting and promoting the sustainable management of productive landscapes, including farms, forests, and even golf courses—not just national parks,” explains Dr. Vorhies, a conservation veteran.

Global Footprint Network and Earthmind, the organization founded by Dr. Vorhies, are partnering in order to implement and promote the VCA approach as an inclusive measure for area-based conservation.

How the VCA idea works

The VCA approach is a voluntary program for recognizing area-based conservation. It offers transparency and accountability to area managers thoroughly listing VCAs on a public registry. Access to the VCA Registry is set out in the VCA Standard, which details what needs to be done to get and remain listed. 

To register an area, a VCA-compliant conservation management plan and associated third-party audit are required. To remain listed, an annual conservation performance report and associated audit is required. VCA plans, reports and audits are all publicly available on the Registry to inform stakeholders, including funders of the area’s conservation efforts and outcomes.

“It is very hard today to recognize sustainable land management efforts in the private sector or by local communities. Yet a recognition label can go a long way toward building up conservation as an asset,” Dr. Vorhies explains.

In fact, the VCA Registry is designed to make it easier to “buy conservation.” Environmentally minded consumers (individuals or organizations) can discover what suppliers of goods and services deserve their business because of their conservation efforts. Or they can identify VCA projects they wish to donate to or invest in.

“Our goal is to create a supply of conservation projects around the world that people anywhere can support,” says Dr. Vorhies. “We hope to turn conservation into an area for beneficial transaction opportunities to mitigate ecological overshoot.”

Vorhies is careful to stress that the definition of “conservation” used in the concept of a Verified Conservation Area is the one presented in the path-breaking 1980 IUCN World Conservation Strategy document. It includes not only restoration but also the “sustainable utilization” of land as a “positive” action “embracing preservation” for the sake of future generations.

As an example, a recent VCA project proposal was issued by the Dutch water company Vitens and five other landowners. The area is a narrow, 15-hectare strip of land called Lizards Lane in the Netherlands to be developed and managed as an ecological heathland corridor to enhance the viability of local populations of amphibians and reptiles. A detailed plan will have to be submitted within two years for the project to be listed as “registered.”

Other registered VCAs include a marine area in Yemen (fish pictured at top), a 250,000 restored wilderness conservancy in Mozambique.

Seeking critical mass

Boosting conservation efforts on the global scale is nothing short of a pressing priority. Growing human population and increasing levels of prosperity keep intensifying the pressures on biodiversity. Current conservation efforts are insufficient to address the ever-increasing global Ecological Footprint.

On the bright side, the global community has committed to conserving 17 percent of terrestrial areas and to restoring 15 percent of degraded ecosystems by 2020 under the international Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. This commitment was reconfirmed in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in September 2015.

Furthermore, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group that finances and provides advice for private sector ventures and projects in developing countries, has included eight environmental performance standards in its lending policy. Performance Standard 6 addresses biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of living natural resources.

“The current international policy framework is technically sufficient to allow for the acceleration of conservation efforts everywhere. What we mainly need at this stage is transparency, accountability and scaling up of best practice,” points out Sebastian Winkler, Vice President Programme and Outreach at Global Footprint Network. He also helps with VCA development efforts.

The challenge ahead is as daunting as the opportunity. Since launching the VCA initiative about two years ago, Dr. Vohries and his team have attracted a dozen of projects on four continents to its registry. The initiative has been relying solely on the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, and is seeking a wider funding base to grow its clout and expand its reach.

Fortunately, the tipping point may be at hand. Conversations with financial institutions including Credit Suisse are picking up momentum. Investment facility Althelia Ecosphere recently expressed interest in piloting VCA projects in its portfolio. And if the team’s development efforts follow their due course, the two-year experiment may blossom as early as the end of this month into a full-fledged global initiative backed by governments and international agencies.

All eyes on the second session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly

Less than a month ago, Dr. Vorhies hosted a side event at the 20th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-20) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international body created in 1993 in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The 40 participants in attendance, who were comprised of government and international NGO representatives, showed keen interest in VCA’s conservation solution.

Dr. Vorhies and his team are intent on capitalizing on that surge of interest quickly. Eight months after the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in New York, the United Nations is reconvening this week in Nairobi (UNEA-2) to discuss budgets and priorities with regard especially to further sustainable production and consumption. The goal is to have VCA taken in consideration as an official UN-approved tool to protect biodiversity, with a view to have it introduced at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP13) to the CBD this December in Cancun, Mexico.

UNEA-2, we hope, will prove pivotal for VCA, thanks to the official endorsement by a non-European—yet to be announced—government, and the public launch of the VCA Coalition by a multi-stakeholder group.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE (May 28, 2016): The VCA Coalition was launched on May 27 in Nairobi at the signing ceremony of this Letter of Intent.  All partners are committed to helping promote, further develop and secure the sustained and increase use of the VCA Approach as a contribution to sustainable land management in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Imagine happiness treading lightly on the Earth

03/25/2016 11:10 AM

How did you celebrate UN World Happiness Day last Sunday? All of us had plenty to chew on with the release of the World Happiness Report 2016—the fourth edition since 2012. Prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of economists, psychologists and public health experts convened by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the happiness ranking of 156 countries was based on individual responses to a global poll conducted by Gallup.

The scholars found that three-quarters of the variation across countries could be explained by six variables: gross domestic product per capita (the rawest measure of a nation’s wealth); healthy years of life expectancy; social support; trust (as measured by perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (as measured by donations).

The glaring omission on this list is the significance of resource consumption. Yet combining the Happiness Index and Ecological Footprint data on one graph reveals interesting patterns.

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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?
(Agenda)

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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FOOD LAB (Bern, 17. Mai 2016)

03/21/2016 03:52 PM

Im Food Lab suchen wir nach den gemeinsamen Eckpunkten und Grundprinzipien der diversen Teilnehmer für eine Nahrungsmittelpolitik der Schweiz nach dem Pariser Klima Abkommen.

Food Lab: Wer wird die Schweiz ernähren?
(Agenda)

Das Ziel von Paris unter 2 Grad Celsius Klimaerwärmung zu bleiben, bedingt eine radikale Reduktion der Treibhausgasemissionen vor 2050. Was bedeutet das für die Nahrungsmittelproduktion hier und weltweit? Die heutigen Ernährungssysteme sind für 30% der globalen Treibhausgasemissionen verantwortlich. Auch wenn es uns gelingt, den Klimawandel auf 2 Grad zu beschränken, bedrängt er die Nahrungsmittelproduktion. Zudem braucht eine wachsende Weltbevölkerung mehr Nahrung. Das alles macht nachhaltige Erzeugung ein noch unabdingbareres Ziel.

Wie kann die Ernährungssicherheit in der Schweiz langfristig gewährleistet werden? (Besonders unter Berücksichtigung der Ziele des Pariser Klimaabkommens 2015)?

Wie werden wir uns 2050 ernähren können (und gleichzeitig soll die Welt bis dann auch CO2 neutral sein)? Und was müssen wir deswegen JETZT tun? Was sind die grossen Fragen und Themen?

Heute schon bekommt die Schweiz nur 50% seiner Nahrungsmittel aus der eigenen Produktion (BFS 2013,bit.ly/1S73Y5f). Der Rest kommt aus dem Ausland, wie auch ein Grossteil der Futtermittel für heimische Tiere für die Fleisch- und Milchproduktion. Bis 2050 leben wahrscheinlich 10 Millionen Menschen in der Schweiz. Werden wir das Geld haben für die Nahrungsimporte? Kaufen wir das Essen einfach den anderen weg – oder stimulieren wir mit dem Geld die notwendige Mehrproduktion (und das ohne Fossilenergie)?

Das bedeutet auch: Wie kann die Landwirtschaft, hier oder im Ausland, langfristig eine höhere und zugleich nachhaltigere Nahrungsmittelversorgung sicherstellen? Welchen Beitrag kann die biologische Landwirtschaft dabei liefern? Gibt es Synergien zwischen biologischer und industrieller Landwirtschaft? Könnten Ansätze aus der biologischen Landwirtschaft in konventionellen Systemen vermehrt integriert werden, um einen schonenderen Umgang mit Ressourcen zu gewährleisten? Kann die biologische Landwirtschaft durch Innovation und günstige Rahmenbedingungen zur breiten Anwendung gebracht werden? Und wie viel Produktion und Konsum braucht es überhaupt? Was würde eine faktenbasierte, menschenfreundliche Thematisierung des Themas Suffizienz bringen? Welche Lösungsoptionen stehen zur Verfügung?

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From outdoor party to environmental awareness, a student’s view of Earth Hour in China

Krina Huang - 03/18/2016 09:52 PM

When I was growing up in Shenzhen, China, one of the must-join activities in my high school was the “Earth Hour” performance. On the last Saturday in March, companies, government, and environmental organizations run by high school students organized performances and games using only small lights (rather than bright stage lighting) in large communities to encourage residents to join outdoor activities while turning off their lights at home. The performance that I remember most was a student band and chorus performing in the dark, without any lights at all. In that darkness, we seemed to be able to hear the music more clearly and enjoy it more. 

To this day, about half of the lights are turned off in government buildings and public areas—on streets and in squares—in Shenzhen to support Earth Hour. Words such as “1 Hour,” “60 Minutes,” and “3600 Seconds” are spelled out with LED lights and can be seen everywhere in the city.

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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 www.footprintnetwork.org/maps. Watch a video explaining the National Footprint Accounts here. If you are interested in attending a webinar on the Footprint Accounts, please email media@footprintnetwork.org

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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Making a Difference: Sustainability is Now More Important Than Ever

Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel, Founders, Global Footprint Network - 12/01/2015 12:10 AM

This is the final post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.

Throughout 2015, we have been eagerly awaiting the climate talks in Paris that began this week. Recent events have expanded the conversation to restoring peace, security and safety. To live in harmony and peace, however, we need to ensure a healthy world that guarantees all people have basic resource security. The link between climate change and national security continues to be more important than ever.

Political and environmental stability are closely linked. For example, an extreme drought in Syria led to massive crop loss and over 1.5 million people migrating from their farms to cities. This exacerbated political unrest in Syria.

Given this backdrop, we at Global Footprint Network are re-doubling our efforts to bring solutions to governments who seek to provide secure lives for their citizens while protecting the natural capital that their communities depend upon. We are proud of our 12-year history of raising awareness globally about ecological overshoot and providing tools that will help people to thrive within our planet’s limits.

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Thanksgiving Potatoes Anyone? Ecological Footprinting in The Martian Movie

11/25/2015 01:30 PM

If I can grow enough potatoes, I won’t starve. But how large an area do I need to plant?

It’s a simple question in a complex and desperate situation. In the movie The Martian, an astronaut on a Mars mission is thought to have been killed in an accident and left on the red planet during an emergency evacuation by the rest of the crew. Mark Watney, the unlucky astronaut played by actor Matt Damon, must figure out how to survive. With four years to go before the next scheduled mission will arrive on Mars, but only enough food to last for one, a key part of survival will be avoiding starvation.

In his video log, Watney surmises, “So, I’ve got to figure out a way to grow three years’ worth of food here—on a planet where nothing grows. Luckily, I am a botanist. Mars will come to fear my botany powers.”

In his quest for food, Watney discovers potatoes that were set aside for Thanksgiving dinner. This is the only food that he can attempt to grow to supplement the remaining food rations. He carefully calculates how much area he needs to grow potatoes and ends up with 126 square meters of Martian cropland.

Since potatoes are renewable resources, Watney calculates that harvesting the larger potatoes and re-planting the smaller ones will provide 400 potato plants, enough calories to keep him going until he can be rescued.

Starting to sound familiar? It sure does to us at Global Footprint Network!


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