The Ecological Footprint is the only metric that measures how much nature we have and how much nature we use. The Footprint helps:
improve sustainability and well-being
optimize public project investments
understand their impact on the planet
How the Footprint Works
Ecological Footprint accounting measures the demand on and supply of nature.
On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint adds up all the biologically productive areas for which a population, a person or a product competes. It measures the ecological assets that a given population or product requires to produce the natural resources it consumes (including plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions.
The Ecological Footprint tracks the use of productive surface areas. Typically these areas are: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon demand on land.
On the supply side, a city, state or nation’s biocapacity represents the productivity of its ecological assets (including cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land). These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also serve to absorb the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel.
Both the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity are expressed in global hectares—globally comparable hectares with world average productivity.
Each city, state or nation’s Ecological Footprint can be compared to its biocapacity, or that of the world.
If a population’s Ecological Footprint exceeds the region’s biocapacity, that region runs a biocapacity deficit. Its demand for the goods and services that its land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what the region’s ecosystems can regenerate. In more popular communications, we also call this “an ecological deficit.” A region in ecological deficit meets demand by importing, liquidating its own ecological assets (such as overfishing or deforestation), and/or emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If a region’s biocapacity exceeds its Ecological Footprint, it has a biocapacity reserve.
Together with York University, Toronto, Global Footprint Network has established an independent organization: Footprint Data Foundation (FoDaFo). This organization’s purpose is to be the steward of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts. FoDaFo independently owns and directs the production of the Accounts, with the goal to provide them with highest reliability, so they can inform public and private decision-making in an unbiased way. For the maintenance of the accounts, York University is providing the academic support. FoDaFo also has the ambition to build a coalition of countries, supported by a rigorous global academic network, to advance its work.
Every year Global Footprint Network raises awareness about global ecological overshoot with our Earth Overshoot Day campaign, which attracts media attention around the world. Earth Overshoot Day is marks the date we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can regenerate in the entire year. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from late September in 2000 to August 2 in 2023.
We must begin to make ecological limits central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live well, within the Earth’s bounds. This means investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource-constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers to participate.