What is an Ecological Footprint?

Definition, goals & methodology

The Ecological Footprint calculates and visualizes the consumption of ecological resources of a person, a company or a country in "global hectares".

Sustainability Management Carbon Footprint

Ecological footprint - in a nutshell


The Ecological Footprint is a sustainability indicator and describes the area of the earth that we humans need to support our lifestyle.

For instance, we need land and natural resources on earth for the production of food or clothing, as well as for the disposal of waste.

The concept of the ecological footprint was developed in 1990, the method is represented today by the Global Footprint Network.

Distinction to CO2 Footprint and Life Cycle Assessment

While the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) shows the impact on the environment caused by the life cycle of a product in carbon dioxide (CO2), the Ecological Footprint does so in a calculated area (gha).

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) also considers environmental impacts, but in contrast to the Ecological Footprint, products and services are analysed. A Life Cycle Assessment is the systematic analysis and evaluation of the environmental impacts of products and services for their entire life cycle.

The ecological footprint is often used to answer important questions. However, it has its limits, e.g. it cannot depict the consumption of non-renewable resources such as coal and oil or rare earths.

Differentiation of ecological footprint from CO2 footprint and life cycle assessment

The Global Hectare

The area of the ecological footprint is indicated with 'global hectares' (gha). A global hectare corresponds to a globally standardised, comparable hectare with average biological productivity. This measure allows different countries and areas of the planet to be compared with each other, even if they differ greatly from their natural conditions and ressources, e.g. deserts and forests.

Germany, for instance, has 1.6 global hectares according to the Global Footprint Network. However, we have a consumption of 4.9 gha, so there is a deficit. This means that we consume more resources than we actually have available.

Current situation and Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day is the day on which humanity has used up the natural resources that the earth can regenerate within a year. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was already on 29 July, whereas in 1990 it was still on 11 October.
Even today, humanity with its current footprint would need 1.75 Earths to continue to live as it does today.

Earth Overshoot Day is calculated as follows:
The natural resources produced by the earth during one year are divided by the ecological footprint of mankind multiplied by the number of days in the year.

Earth Overshoot Day ecologial footprint

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The ecological footprint shows how important it is to handle the earth's resources carefully and efficiently and to reduce climate and environmental impacts.
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