What is Ecological Footprint?

Now that there is an increasing concern about the status of the environment, perhaps you might have heard about the term ecological footprint. This term may be popular, but many people do not know its meaning and what it signifies. Because it concerns all living things on earth, it is important to have a good understanding on what ecological footprint really is.

In simple terms, ecological footprint refers to the impact of each person, a group of people in a city, country or globally, or a particular activity such as manufacturing to the environment. It is normally expressed in terms of land area needed to sustain the use of natural resources. This term is now used by government and non-government organizations as a communication and management tool to assess the environmental status of a particular country. The ecological footprint of a particular country is the total area required for planting crops, grazing, fishing, and tree planting to produce fiber, food and timber as well as to absorb the pollution and waste that are emitted when energy is used. It also considers providing a space for infrastructure.

It is easy to understand ecological footprint from a realistic figure. For instance, in 2007, the global ecological footprint was about 18 billion hectares. This figure means that there should be a total of 18 billion hectares of productive land worldwide to support the wastes and lifestyle of the people. However, as of that year, there were only around 11.9 billion hectares of productive land available worldwide. It signifies that during that year, people used more natural resources that the planet could produce or generate.

Different countries leave different footprints. Some countries like Indonesia have a more sustainable footprint. It all depends on the lifestyle of the people, including how much goods they consume, how much fuel they burn, how much wastes are generated, and how these wastes are addressed.

If a country’s ecological footprint shows an overshoot, it sends a clear and urgent message to all. It may indicate a scarcity in resources or improper use of its resources. It could also send a signal that wastes or pollution is not properly addressed. This is an important message that could impact human survival in the future. But regardless of the footprint of a particular country, its people need to be informed about it. That global overshoot in 2007 is frightening information. And we may likely have a bigger overshoot in the present unless we do something about it now.

The computation of accurate ecological footprint is necessary towards sustainability. It tells us what kind of resources and how much of those resources are available and how long they will be available based on current consumption patterns. It could help nations and organizations focus and address the environmental problems they are currently facing. It could also help them conceptualize ideas to better address any overshoot in their ecological footprint. Additionally, it will also give scientists and researches insight if there is a need to create new resources like in the case of the creation of biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuel. And even more important, it will tell if the sustainability efforts of various organizations and countries work out.