Ecological Footprint as a Sustainability Indicator


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Ecological Footprint as a Sustainability Indicator

  1. 1. National Research Conference – 2012 Organized by: Bangladesh Peace and Development Mission In Association With: National Academy for Educational Management Ecological Footprint as a Sustainability Indicator Shahadat Hossain Shakil*, Dr. Ishrat Islam** AbstractEcological Footprint assessment helps to identify what activities are having the biggest impact on nature andopens up possibilities to reduce our impact and live within the means of One Planet. It providesmeasurement of collective consumption of the population whether they are exceeding the Earth’s ecologicallimits or not. It is compared with Biocapacity which measures the amount of available bioproductiveresources in ecosystem. The introduction of Ecological Footprint has been very necessary for the context ofBangladesh especially in Dhaka as the endless demand and the unplanned consumption pattern of thepopulation here have been producing a very unsustainable situation.Keywords: Ecological Footprint, Biocapacity, Environmental SustainabilityIntroductionThe 21 st century is going to introducing us to a more complicated scenario than ever to access the ecosystemservice. The current trend of consumption, urbanization, industrialization is sending us closer to foodshortage, biodiversity loss, depleted fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress. The effect of these will bereflected by the global supply-demand crisis of essential resources. To manage both ecological reserve anddemand in a better way, immediate strategies should be put forth and one of the major indicators for makingthese strategies is Ecological Footprint (Ewing, Moore, Goldfinger, Oursler, Reed, & Wackernagel, 2010).The Ecological Footprint is a well-respected, internationally applied indicator of sustainability. It wasdeveloped in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees as a means of making our ecologicalconstraints clear and our sustainability strategies more effective and livable. Ecological footprint is one ofthe approaches working as a successful sustainability indicator. It is an evolving topic and modification ofthis tool is still going on.*Research Assistant, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Bangladesh University of Engineeringand Technology, Dhaka-1000.E- mail:, Cell: 01717189153**Associate Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Bangladesh University of Engineeringand Technology, Dhaka-1000. E- mail: emergence of Ecological Footprint has taken place to measure humanity’s demand on nature. Itmeasures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumesand to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions, using prevailing technology. To provide the resources we use
  2. 2. and absorb our waste, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets today. This means the Earth now needsone year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if currentpopulation and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths tosupport us and of course, we only have one (Footprint Basics–Overview,Global Footprint Network, 2011).Concepts and DefinitionFootprint accounts are divided into two parts: ecological supply (Bioproductive Area or Biocapacity) andhuman demand on nature (Ecological Footprint).Ecological Footprint – DemandIt is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activityrequires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the carbon dioxide emissions it generatesusing prevailing technology and resource management practices (Glossary,Global Footprint Network,2011). Components of Ecological Footprint Account have been illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 1: Components of Ecological Footprint Source: WWF (2010)Formula of Ecological Footprint derived from National Footprint Account Methodology 2010 (Ewing, Reed,Galli, Kitzes, & Wackernagel, 2010): EF = (P/YN). YF. EQFWhere, P = Amount of Product Harvested or Waste Emitted YN = National Average Yield for P or its Carbon Uptake Capacity YF = Yield Factor, EQF = Equivalency FactorFootprint is expressed in global hectares. Global hectares are estimated with the help of two factors: theyield factors (that compare national average yield per hectare to world average yield in the same landcategory) and the equivalence factors (which capture the relative productivity among the various land andsea area types).
  3. 3. Biocapacity – SupplyBiocapacity is the capacity of ecosystems to produce biological materials useful for people, and to absorbwaste they generate (including carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning), using current management schemesand extraction technologies (Glossary, Global Footprint Network, 2011).Biocapacity is usually expressed in units of global hectares. The biocapacity of an area is calculated byadjusting the area for its productivity. This is achieved by multiplying the actual physical area by the areaspecific yield factor and the appropriate equivalence factor.According to National Footprint Account Methodology 2010 (Ewing, Reed, Galli, Kitzes, & Wackernagel,2010), a country’s biocapacity BC for any land use type is calculated as follows: BC = A. YF. EQFWhere, A= Area Available for a Given Land Use Type YF and EQF = Yield Factor and Equivalence Factor, respectively, for the Country, Year, and Land Use Type in QuestionEcological Deficit or OvershootThe difference between the Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint of a region or country is termed asEcological Deficit or Overshoot. An ecological deficit occurs when the footprint of a population exceeds thebiocapacity of the area available to that population. Conversely, an ecological reserve exists when thebiocapacity of a region exceeds its populations footprint. If there is a regional or national ecological deficit,it means that the region is importing biocapacity through trade or liquidating regional ecological assets. Incontrast, the global ecological deficit cannot be compensated through trade, and is therefore equal toovershoot (Glossary, Global Footprint Network, 2011). Notion of Ecological Overshoot has beenexemplified in Figure 2.
  4. 4. Figure 2: Footprint and Biocapacity Factors that Determine Global Overshoot Source: Ewing, Moore, Goldfinger, Oursler, Reed, & Wackernagel (2010)Ecological Footprint as Sustainability IndicatorThe Ecological Footprint attempts to answer one central sustainability question: “How much of thebioproductive capacity of the biosphere is used by human activities?” Footprint accounting answers thisquestion by translating all human demands on the biosphere into the amount of productive area required tosupport those demands, either through producing resources or assimilating wastes. This can then becompared to the total amount of biologically productive land available at the global level or within a specificregion. Such a measure of the supply of and human demand on natural capital is indispensable for trackingprogress, setting targets and driving policies for sustainability. To manage our natural capital wisely, it isimportant to know how much we have and how much we use (McIntyre & Peters, 2007).Ecological footprint accounts allow governments to track a city or region’s demand on natural capital, and tocompare this demand with the amount of natural capital actually available. The accounts also givegovernments the ability to answer more specific questions about the distribution of these demands withintheir economy. In other words, it gives them information about their resource metabolism (Footprint forCities, Global Footprint Network, 2011).ConclusionEcological footprint figure confirms us the about degree of sustainability of our lifestyle from theenvironmental perspective. It demonstrates how much resources we have and how rapidly we are using themfor our present existence. It illustrates whether we are on right track by maintaining the balance or we areliving on ecological credits, borrowing resources from our future generations.
  5. 5. ReferencesEwing, B., Moore, D., Goldfinger, S., Oursler, A., Reed, A., & Wackernagel, M. (2010). Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010. Oakland: Global Footprint Network.Ewing, B., Reed, A., Galli, A., Kitzes, J., & Wackernagel, M. (2010). Calculation Methodology for the National Footprint Accoounts, 2010 Edition. Oakland: Global Footprint Network.Global Footprint Network. (2011). Foorprint Basics-Overview. Retrieved May 10, 2011, from Global Footprint Network : Advancing the Science of Sustainability: Footprint Network. (2011). Footprint For Cities . Retrieved May 10, 2011, from Global Footprint Network : Advancing the Science of Sustainability : Footprint Network. (2011). Glossary. Retrieved May 10, 2011, from Global Footprint Network : Advancing the Science of Sustainability:, S. A., & Peters, H. M. (2007, June 26). The Ecological Footprint of Utah. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from Utah Vital Sign: (2010). Living Planet Report 2010. Switzerland: World Wide Fund For Nature International.Xu, S., & Martin, I. S. (2010). Ecological Footprint for The Twin Cities: Impacts of the Consumption in the 7-County Metro Area. Minneapolis: Metropolitan Design Centre, College of Design, University of Minnesota.