Ecological Footprint in Psychology of Sustainability

The ecological footprint is a metric developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees (1990s). promoted by the Global Footprint Network

An ecological accounting system or resource accounting tool

It quantifies the environmental impact of human activities by assessing the ecological resources and services required to sustain our lifestyle.

These resources include-

  • Arable land,
  • Forests,
  • Energy,
  • Freshwater.

The ecological footprint is typically expressed in global hectares (GHA), a unit that represents the Earth’s productive capacity.

The ecological footprint is a method to measure human demand on natural capital,

In short, it is a measure of human impact on the environment.

An ecological footprint is tool that measures-

  • The amount of biologically productive land and water area required to provide the resources a population consumes 
  • To absorb the waste it generates.


What is a global hectare?

  • A global hectare (gha) is a unit of measurement that represents the average productivity of all biologically productive land and water area on Earth.
  • It is used to compare the ecological footprints of different countries, regions, and individuals.
  • a unit that represents the Earth’s productive capacity.
  • It can be measured at individual, national, or global levels.

How is an ecological footprint calculated?

The following steps are taken:

  • Identify all of the products and services that a person or population uses.
  • Determine the amount of resources required to produce and deliver each product and service.
  • Calculate the amount of waste generated by each product and service.
  • Convert all of the resources and waste into a common unit of measurement, such as global hectares (GHA).
  • Add up the resources and waste to calculate the total ecological footprint.

It is calculated by taking into account all of the products and services that a person or population uses, including food, housing, transportation, and energy.

  • Carbon Footprint: This measures the amount of biologically productive land and sea area required to absorb the carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activities. It accounts for the largest portion of the global ecological footprint.
  • Food Footprint: This assesses the land needed to produce the food consumed by a population.
  • Housing Footprint: It quantifies the land and resources used for infrastructure, such as housing, transportation, and energy consumption.
  • Goods and Services Footprint: This component calculates the resources required to manufacture products and provide services.
  • let’s consider the ecological footprints of various countries and individuals.

National Ecological Footprints:

  • USA has one of the largest ecological footprints globally, primarily due to high energy consumption and resource-intensive lifestyles.
  • Countries with smaller populations and efficient resource use, such as Denmark and Sweden, have comparatively smaller ecological footprints.

Individual Ecological Footprints:

  • A person living in a densely populated urban area with a minimal reliance on cars, consuming locally-sourced food, and practicing energy conservation, will have a smaller ecological footprint.
  • Conversely, an individual living in a sprawling suburb with a car-dependent lifestyle and consuming resource-intensive products will have a larger ecological footprint.

The following are some examples of ecological footprints:

  • The average American has an ecological footprint of 8.4 gha.
  • The average Chinese person has an ecological footprint of 4.6 gha.
  • The average Indian person has an ecological footprint of 2.7 gha.
  • The global ecological footprint is 1.7 times the Earth’s biocapacity.

Significance of the Ecological Footprint

  • Sustainability Assessment: It helps measure the sustainability of our current lifestyles and consumption patterns. By comparing our footprint to the Earth’s capacity, we can gauge whether we are living within the planet’s means.
  • Policy and Decision Making: Governments and organizations can use ecological footprint data to inform policies and initiatives aimed at reducing environmental impact and promoting sustainable practices.
  • Awareness and Education: The ecological footprint concept fosters environmental awareness and encourages individuals to make more sustainable choices in their daily lives.
  • Global Perspective: It offers a global perspective, allowing us to understand how different countries and regions contribute to global ecological degradation.

What can we do to reduce our ecological footprints?

  • Eating less meat and more plant-based foods.
  • Reducing our energy consumption.
  • Driving less and walking, biking, or taking public transportation more.
  • Buying less stuff and reusing and recycling what we do buy.
  • Supporting sustainable businesses and organizations.

By taking these steps, we can help to reduce our impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future for all.


  • Global Footprint Network:
  • Wackernagel, M., and Rees, W. E. (1996). Our ecological footprint: reducing human impact on the Earth. New Society Publishers.
  • Rees, W. E. (2002). Ecological footprint analysis: principles and practice. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 4(1), 89-101.

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