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Ecological Footprint: Everything you should know

Ecological Footprint: Everything you should know

By daniele

When we talk about climate change and the actions we can take to reduce their effect on the world, it is first necessary to know a little more about our mistakes so that we can amend them before it is too late. In this note, we are going to cover some ecological terms and their purposes to help the planet.

What is the Ecological Footprint?

As we know, human beings have a lot of needs to survive, such as food, shelter, and heating (in some locations). Requirements that our planet’s ecological resources help fulfill, but how many resources do we consume while trying to achieve them? Well, this question can be answered using the ecological footprint.

Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, ecological footprint accounting measures a population’s demand for natural ecosystems’ supply of resources and services.

So basically, this system measures an individual’s or a population’s demand for plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

This data can be applied at scales ranging from single products to households, cities, nations, and the global population as a whole and is used by governments and organizations to measure and manage sustainability efforts.

Essential purpose

By measuring the overall supply and human demand on the planet’s regenerative capacity, the ecological footprint tool helps with tracking progress, setting targets, and setting policies for sustainability.


Regarding the supply side, a city, state, or nation’s biocapacity represents its biologically productive land and sea area, including forest lands, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land.

In other words, it is the capacity of ecosystems to provide useful natural resources as well as to absorb waste generated by human manufacturing. These useful natural resources include any material needed to manufacture goods and services.

Likewise, this is information that can be calculated by multiplying the actual physical area by the yield factor and the appropriate equivalence factor and is usually expressed in units of global hectares.

Ecological overshoot

But what happens when a population’s demand on an ecosystem exceeds the capacity of the ecosystem to regenerate the resources it consumes? Well, the experts call it an ecological overshoot. And, if you have ever heard of an ecological deficit, you have to know that, at a global level, it is the same, since there is no net import of resources to the planet. Ecological overshoot leads to the depletion of the planet’s life supporting biological capital and an accumulation of waste products.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services (Ecological Footprint) in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year (the biocapacity). If you want to know more, you can check it out here.

Ecological Deficit (red), and Reserve (green)

This is the difference between the biocapacity and ecological footprint of a region or country. As we mentioned before, an ecological deficit occurs when the footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population. Conversely, an ecological reserve exists when the biocapacity of a region exceeds its population’s footprint.