An ecological footprint is a scientific indicator that measures the impact of the life a particular person leads on the planet. It is the biologically productive area of land on Earth that is necessary to sustainably enable a person’s lifestyle and standard of living.

Don’t be confused. A person’s ecological footprint isn’t just the fields and meadows that are necessary to feed this person, the roads he uses, or the soil on which he lives and works. It also includes the forest, which is necessary to create the carbon dioxide that is produced for him during the energy production. It includes areas that are necessary for the production of clothing and food, but also for the disposal of garbage, for example. 

The ecological footprint measures in hectares what any given person consumes in nature, then compares it to the area of land that nature has available (biocapacity) to compensate for this consumption, so that what has been harvested can grow again or nature can simply recover.

The ecological footprint thus measures the demand of a population for the supply of resources and benefits of natural ecosystems.

BiocapacityEcological Footprint
Offer of a city, state or nation to its biologically productive land and sea area, including forest land, pasture, farmland, fishing grounds and built-up landDemand by an individual or a population for planting food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels

Many countries are in imbalance between offer and demand. They consume more natural resources (Ecological Footprint) than their ecosystems can regenerate (biocapacity), they have an “ecological deficit.”

This gap between ecological footprint and biocapacity is determined by several factors. Our personal footprint is the product of how much we consume and how efficiently it is produced. The biocapacity per person is determined by how many hectares of productive land there are, how productive each hectare is, and how many people (in a city, country or the world) share that biocapacity.

Currently, the global ecological footprint of humanity is 1.7. That means that human consumption causes such a large deficit that we would need 1.7 Earths to balance our annual consumption.

The ecological footprint of a European is 3, and if all the world had the lifestyle of an average American, we would need 5 planets.

eco footprint of Europeans and Americans
Average Footprint of Europeans and Americans

Learn more about our footprint and the earth overshoot day here.

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