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What is an ecological footprint?

The ecological footprint is a powerful tool for measuring and communicating environmental impact and sustainable resource use. It expresses the relationship between consumption and availability of natural resources. Comparing the ecological footprint with the global availability of productive area gives an indicator of environmental sustainability, which can then be monitored over time to determine trends. If more bioproductive land and sea is required than is available, then it is likely that the rate of consumption is not sustainable (Chambers et al., 2000). In contrast, if everyone lived within their earthshare, we would consume only as much as the planet is able to provide.

The ecological footprint involves collecting data from the resource flow analysis and other sources, about a range of activities such as transport, energy use, materials and product consumption, waste production and water use. The impacts of these activities are converted into a common currency, global hectares (gha). Because the ecological footprint uses this common currency, a broad range of impacts can be aggregated to derive ecological footprints for products, individuals, processes, organisation, regions and countries. It is a 'snapshot' measure and is based on a year-specific data set : 2001 for this study.

What is an earthshare?

The earthshare is the average amount of global resources available per person. To calculate earthshare, the total available bioproductive land and sea area of the planet is divided equally among the current global population. It is estimated that the current earthshare is 1.9 gha (Loh, 2002). A hectare is about the same as 1.3 football pitches.

Methodology

For further information and details on how the ecological footprint was calculated for this study see the Technical Report.