Environment Update: Heard of the Global Footprint Network?

Proponents of an accounting tool that measures human impact on nature, the Global Footprint Network is dedicated to making governments and other decision makers use ecological limits in developing policy and implementing programs.

Back in the 1970s economists and researchers talked about limits and in particular pointed to an impending date when we would run out of oil. Of course time has proven them wrong as new technologies have greatly expanded fossil fuel reserves.

But in defining limits these researchers established the principle that humans needed to seriously look at how we could sustain our modern civilization indefinitely. Hence the development of what is becoming an important field of study – footprint science.

We know that our planet is abundantly endowed with resources but we also know that these are finite. As a result through efforts at the United Nations we are assembling 6,000 data points from 232 countries and territories to measure consumption and resource capacity over time. Each nation has a National Footprint Account. The one below is for Canada.


National Footprint Account for Canada 2013


Note that biocapacity even in a resource rich country like mine is declining related to our ecological footprint, the latter being a calculation of our total consumption of resources.

Now look at the National Footprint of the United States.


National Footprint Account for USA 2013


Note that America’s footprint is exceeding its biocapacity by an increasing margin since the 1960s. And the United States isn’t alone. Despite many countries committing themselves to sustainable development most are failing to measure up to the standard with ecological footprints exceeding biocapacity. This is a recipe for potential disaster. But as they say in any redemptive therapy, awareness is the first step on the way to being able to do something about rejigging our use of the planet we live on.

The Global Footprint Network provides guidance for cities, business and individuals let alone nations to begin to adjust our behaviour to embrace sustainability and measure our efforts to achieve it. For government it gives metrics that can be worked with to assess progress. For individuals it gives us the means to create our own personal footprint calculation.

If you currently reside in the U.S., Canada or Australia right now you can find out the measure of your personal footprint. Just go to the Footprint Calculator, select your location and answer the quiz. If you want to participate in establishing a footprint calculation for your organization then you can email calculators@footprintnetwork.org to get started.

The Canadian footprint is based on calculations developed using data submitted by the City of Calgary. I live in Toronto but took the test (see the results below) and found out that my family’s current footprint is 6.8. That number equals the global hectares of land necessary to sustain the three of us. And it equates to an area of land the size of 8.4 Canadian football fields. If you are not familiar with our brand of football, a Canadian field is approximately 137 meters (150 yards) by 60 meters (65 yards). Multiply that by 8.4 and you have a lot of land to sustain the three of us. And this is after the exercise of downsizing our carbon footprint. We will endeavor to do better.


Personal footprint



Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...