Our Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint created by the Global Footprint Network is a great illustration of our impact on the planet. It measures the resources and ecological services we use and compares them to those provided by nature, that is Earth’s biocapacity. Our demand defines thereby our footprint, whilst Earth’s biocapacity is the amount of resources the Earth is able to provide for us each year.

Currently we would need about 1.6 planets to replenish the resources we use within a year. This means that we need less than a year to use up the renewable resources available for us that year. For the environment, this means that we cut down more trees than can mature, that we take more fish from the sea than can reproduce, and that we release more carbon into the atmosphere than forests and oceans can absorb.

The day we’ve used up the renewable resources for the year is called „Earth Overshoot Day“. This year it fell on August 22nd. Due to the corona crisis and the associated decrease in the consumption of resources, the day moved back by more than three weeks compared to 2019.

5 reasons why we should calculate our Ecological Footprint

  1. To better understand the environmental impact of our lifestyle.
  2. To identify the activities with the largest footprint.
  3. To identify the lifestyle changes that have the greatest potential to reduce our footprint.
  4. To embark on our personal sustainability journey.
  5. To counteract the climate crisis and to help create a more sustainable society.

Footprint vs Biocapacity

Our footprint can be divided into five areas that reflect our resource consumption:

  1. Energy demand
  2. Urban infrastructure
  3. Timber & paper
  4. Food & fiber
  5. Seafood

On the other hand, the Earth’s biocapacity can be divided into the following resource supplies:

  1. Carbon footprint
  2. Build-up land
  3. Forests
  4. Cropland & pasture
  5. Fisheries
Der Ökologische Fußabdruck vom Global Footprint Network
The Ecological Footprint by the Global Footprint Network

The Footprint of the Global Population

If we look at our footprint in terms of resource use, i.e. the biocapacity that we need to meet our demand, it becomes clear that we are using more than nature can renew in a year. Over the past fifty years our footprint has grown steadily and since the 1970s we have needed more than one Earth to meet our annual demand.

It also becomes clear that our carbon footprint, i.e. our energy consumption, has the largest share of our Ecological Footprint. As this component of our footprint has risen sharply over the last few decades and is the cause of climate change, it is important that we reduce it. Whilst our carbon footprint is included in the Ecological Footprint, there are carbon footprint calculators, such as the one from WWF, that specialize in it as it makes up such a large proportion of our overall environmental impact.

Why the Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint can not only be used to determine the footprint of the world’s population, but also that of countries, cities, companies and people. For example, if everyone on Earth lived like the average American or Australian, we would need five or four earths, respectively. If everyone lived like the average German or British, we would need roughly three planets. On the other hand, if we all lived like the average Indian, Filipino or Kenyan, we could live of the resources from two thirds of the planet. 

And if you now think that you don’t want to give up your current standard of living in order to reduce your footprint, let me assure you that you don’t have. The point is not that we develop backwards in order to live in balance with nature, but that we make our systems and societies more sustainable.

Die 4 Bereiche des Ökologischen Fußabdrucks

Our Individual Footprint

For individuals, the calculation of the Ecological Footprint is divided into four categories: Food, Stuff, Home and Travel. For each category, the calculation takes into account the variety of resources we use to meet our demand; from cropland to feed us and the animals we eat, to the energy we use at home and to travel.

Calculating our footprint is so helpful because the results give us a point of reference. They illustrate the impact our lifestyle has on the environment and how we can reduce it. At the same time, it illustrates the limits of making our lifestyles sustainable, indicating where systemic changes are required to further reduce our footprints.

"In this world a species can only thrive, when everything else around it thrives too."
David Attenborough
David Attenborough
Britischer Naturforscher

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