What is an ecological footprint?

The ecological footprint is a way of expressing our impact on the planet. It shows the amount of land used to provide us with everything we consume (energy, food, homes, travel, the things we buy, etc) and also to cope with the waste that we produce.

My eco-footprint can be expressed in terms of the number of planets that we’d need to absorb my impact if everyone on earth lived as I did. For example, if everyone lived like the average Brit we’d need three planets to mop up our carbon emissions, grow our food and dispose of our waste. The clear target is to become a 'one planet' person.

The ecological footprint can also be expressed in global hectares. 1.9 hectares is an individual's fair share. The average ecological footprint in the UK is 5.3 global hectares per person. This graph (using WWF figures) shows how it breaks down:

Ecological Footprint

The eco-footprint doesn't measure everything. It can't give us figures for the impact of some types of pollution, for the use of finite resources or aesthetic or social impacts. But it provides a way of seeing the relative impact of our actions, so that we can prioritise what we do to reduce our impact.

You can measure your own ecological footprint online. www.myfootprint.org asks 15 questions to work out your footprint in global hectares relative to other people in the country you live in. The site also provides advice to individuals, schools and businesses on reducing ecological footprints.

WWF's Living Planet Report uses the ecological footprint to show the impact of human demands on the world ecosystems. You can also investigate your own footprint using WWF's Footprint Calculator. The Global Footprint Network also has information about global and national ecological footprints.

Eco-footprinting for education

The ecological footprint is a powerful educational tool. It lends itself to games, theatre, practical workshops and creativity. It can help young people to understand global environmental and social issues.

CAT has created a variety of activities using the eco-footprint, for pupils from 7 to 18 as well as teachers and youth groups. Our Where's the Impact? resource pack contains photocopiable materials for eco-footprinting activities. The activity can be run at a variety of levels, from KS2 to A-level.

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