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Global Footprint Network for Large Institutions & Governments

Ecological Footprint is an ecological accounting tool that assesses past consumption and biocapacity

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Global Footprint Network supports a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement and management tool that makes the reality of ecological limits central to decision-making everywhere.

solar thin film photovoltaic tfpv pv The Ecological Footprint is an ecological accounting tool. The Footprint’s technical integrity is grounded in the fact that the Footprint assesses past consumption and biocapacity, based on actual production and consumption data (see also Standard 12.3). The Footprint does not attempt to predict future consumption or biocapacity, nor predict technological innovation. It just documents what is.

Links Between Sustainability and Footprint

From the standpoint of bioproductivity the earth is a closed system, and this imposes a maximum on the global demand. Exceeding this demand leads to overshoot, or using nature’s resources faster than nature can regenerate them, which is not sustainable.

Since the Footprint is a comparison of past demand against past biocapacity, the impact of pollutants or land change may be detected as a declining trend in biocapacity, such as smaller yield factors or increased natural loss factors. The Footprint is not intended to predict future changes in bioproductivity. The Footprint measures human demand on biocapacity. Since the Earth’s bioproductivity is required to support all species on Earth, decisions on how much of the biocapacity can be used by humans is as much a values-based decision as it is a scientific analysis. For example, if humans consume 100% of the Earths biocapacity, then there is nothing remaining to support wildlife. As it is ultimately an ethical choice in what kind of biodiversity rich world humanity wants to live – or, from a minimalist perspective, how much biodiversity is absolutely essential for human life on this planet, best practices call for making the need for this choice clear to users of Ecological Footprint results.

The requirement that humanity’s Footprint be smaller than available global biocapacity is a necessary but not sufficient, condition for sustainability. Policy decisions regarding biodiversity, resource management, social well-being and other sustainability dimensions require consideration of factors beyond the Footprint. Footprint reports need to state clearly that Footprints are not complete sustainability measures. Issues not directly related to the Footprint, such as social satisfaction, human health, the integrity of natural ecosystems, or the conversion and management of non-renewable resources such as minerals must be assessed using other tools.

Network Building and Outreach

We are building a network of the world’s leading practitioners and institutions working to expand awareness and use of the Ecological Footprint. The network currently includes 75 partner organizations on five continents. Through our newsletter, website, trainings, and media campaigns we are sparking a global dialogue about ecological limits and overshoot.

Global Footprint Network Partnership

Global Footprint Network invites organizations with shared goals to partner with us in strengthening the Footprint and enhancing its value as a catalyst for sustainability. Through the participation of our partners we:

  • Coordinate research
  • Update and strengthen the National Footprint Accounts
  • Standardize methodologies
  • Extend the Footprint into new domains
  • Share tools
  • Build the technical capacity of footprint practitioners and
  • Develop strategic initiatives that benefit the entire sustainability community.
The “Ten-in-Ten” campaign aims at institutionalizing the Footprint in ten national governments by 2015.

Global Footprint Network is now in active dialogue with contacts in over 20 countries that are likely to be early adopters of the Ecological Footprint.

To gain the greatest leverage, we target decision makers within large institutions that have significant influence over the allocation of financial resources and the direction of human endeavour. We therefore focus on local, state, and national governments; multi-national agencies; and businesses.

With the Ecological Footprint, large institutions can

  • measure their overall demand on the biosphere,
  • assess their sustainability performance,
  • set realistic targets,
  • monitor projects and programs,
  • communicate successes and,
  • by comparing scenarios, identify ecological implications of the choices they make.
The Footprint also helps these institutions shape policy and budget priorities that will encourage large Footprint reductions among those they influence. By providing these actors with a common framework and metric that works across geographic scales, the Ecological Footprint enables comparison, communication, and concerted action – all in service of sustainability.


Ecological Glossary


To help establish the Ecological Footprint as a prominent, globally accepted metric, we work with a range of multi-national agencies, including the European Commission, the European Environment Agency, UNEP, and UNESCO. We also work with global Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like WWF International, with whom we produce global and regional Living Planet Reports.

To accomplish our overarching mission, and to influence decision makers at national, state, and local levels, we are working with our 75 partner organizations around the world. We actively work in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa to build a common language and approach that will resonate in all countries and cultures. Together with our partner organizations, we carry out four key programs:

1. National Footprint Accounts Research Global Footprint Network serves as the steward of the National Footprint Accounts, the calculation system that measures the ecological resource use and resource capacity of nations over time. Based on approximately 4,000 data points per country per year, the Accounts calculate the Footprints of 152 countries from 1961 to the present. These accounts provide the core data that is needed for all Footprint analyses worldwide.

2. International Standards The adoption of the Ecological Footprint as a trusted sustainability metric depends on the scientific integrity of the methodology, consistent and rigorous application of this methodology across analyses, and results being reported in a straightforward and non-misleading manner. To meet these goals, we have created a consensus-based committee process to establish standards governing all Ecological Footprint analyses worldwide. In June 2006, we launched the first Ecological Footprint standards. (

3. Network Building and Outreach We are building a network of the world’s leading practitioners and institutions working to expand awareness and use of the Ecological Footprint. The network currently includes 75 partner organizations on five continents. Through our newsletter, website, trainings, and media campaigns we are sparking a global dialogue about ecological limits and overshoot.

4. Strategic Applications In order to extend the Footprint into new domains and to develop new application methodologies and tools, Global Footprint Network engages in a select number of strategic projects with government agencies, nonprofits, and businesses. Many of these projects are conducted in collaboration with our partners.

Consumption Land Use Matrix

Suggested Top-Level Components (see also Standard 6: Consistency of Components). Note that for Footprint studies of organizations, which are in the middle of the supply chain, defining consumption may be difficult. None the less, reporting data in this format is a useful tool in identifying the magnitude of an organization’s impact on various land types. For organizations, the consumption categories below may not be appropriate, and for such studies the practitioner and client should negotiate appropriate categories.

The consumption components for Footprint results are:

ƒ Food (e.g. consumption areas associated with (the chain of) food production)

ƒ Shelter (e.g. domestic energy and land use and consumption areas associated with the construction industry)

ƒ Mobility (e.g. fuel and land use for private transport and consumption areas associated with provision of public transport)

ƒ Goods (e.g. consumption areas associated with products of the manufacturing industry)

ƒ Services (e.g. consumption areas associated with provision of public and private services)

Global Footprint Network
Oakland, California Office (Headquarters)
Mathis Wackernagel, Ph.D., Executive Director
+ [1] 510-839-8879 (tel)
+ [1] 510-251-2410 (fax)
Mailing address:
Global Footprint Network
1050 Warfield Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610-1612 USA

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| sustainability | ecology | carbon footprint |


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