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  • Megan at ZeroSmart

What is an Ecological Footprint?

What does an Ecological Footprint Mean?

Simply, an ecological footprint is the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services needed to support a particular lifestyle. It is expressed in global hectares, or by number of planets.

It is the impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the waste generated.

It compares demand and supply: the smaller the ratio, the better, meaning that fewer natural resources would be enough for a person.

Ecological footprints were a concept created in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia. The Ecological Footprint launched the broader footprint movement, including the carbon footprint, and is now widely used by scientists, businesses, governments, individuals, and institutions working to monitor ecological resource use and advance sustainable development.

An Ecological Footprint calculates how fast nature can absorb our waste and generate new resources.

Our Ecological Footprint

Everything we do makes a demand on nature: the food we eat, our food waste, home size, home energy consumption, the purchasing rate, and traveling methods. Added together, the demands make up our ecological footprint.

How it Works on a Global Scale

Each city, state, or nation’s Ecological Footprint can be compared to its biocapacity or that of the world.

If a population’s Ecological Footprint exceeds the region’s biocapacity, that region runs a biocapacity deficit. It is this which will then create our annual Earth Overshoot Day.

For the past decade, the date of Earth Overshoot Day has been decreasing. This year, the date on which humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year fell on July 28th. In 2020, Earth Overshoot Day was the 22nd of August. 2019 was three weeks later.

In 2016, 1.7 planets were needed to cover the global needs of humans that year… In 2022 it was 1.5.

Earth Overshoot Day, 1971 - 2022.

In 2021, if every person on our planet adapted the lifestyle of an average British person, we would have needed 2.6 planets to meet the needs of humans.

The United Kingdom continues to consume more resources than it can produce.


A good start for reducing your ecological footprint is to first understand where your impacts come from. You can use this calculator here.

How to Reduce your Ecological Footprint

Reducing your ecological footprint is not a one size fits all process. Everybody's ecological footprint is different because everybody's lives are different. In this blog, we are going to discuss three main contributors.


The things we eat and the way they get onto our plates have huge ecological footprints attached to them. In our world today, there is currently over-dependence on select foods, a lack of diversity in our di,ets and the continued consumption of unsustainably produced items that hurt nature.

Many people in developing countries typically consume more meat and other animal proteins that are required for nutrition alone, with adverse impacts on both human and planetary health. Much of this is unsustainably produced. To learn more about this please read our blog on How Much Does Being Vegan Reduce my Carbon Footprint By?

Overfishing is threatening not just our fish stocks, but the entire ecosystems of oceans as many species are fished to critical limits or beyond. If you haven't already seen Seaspiracy, read this blog for the key takeaways from the documentary on the fishing industry.

Too many of the crops we eat are grown on freshly-converted land and are not subject to agro-ecological practices which protect the health of soil and water – for future growth and for all the other benefits they supply, from carbon sequestering to providing drinking water. Luckily, there are solutions to bad agriculture practices that are already available to us.

Reducing the environmental impact of your diet therefore, includes reducing your meat intake and diversifying what you do eat, and increasing the amounts of different crops you eat.

Buying Sustainably

Our economies are geared towards continuous growth and rely on people buying more "stuff". We’re already demanding more resources than the Earth can provide, contributing to climate change, water scarcity, pollution, and biodiversity loss. But, as the global population grows further, continued over-purchasing will accelerate this destruction.

Being a conscious consumer is more important than ever before: consumer markets can also be a force for good and halt this destruction, provided individuals insist on purchasing products that are produced sustainably, and in harmony with nature.

Being a conscious consumer can look like knowing where your food is from - asking your butchers and your fishmongers. Supporting businesses who are honest about where their ingredients/products are from and the efforts they make to be sustainable, or investing in food that has been certified sustainable. Finally, it could look like buying second-hand, donating items, and upcycling items.

Changing to Clean Energy

We need to step up efforts to switch from using fossil fuels – the biggest cause of climate change – to clean, renewable energy.

Since the industrial revolution, human actions have caused average global temperatures to rise by almost 1°C. Levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any point in human existence and are still increasing due to our energy demands.

One way you could reduce your demand for non-renewable energy is by walking can include walking, cycling, and using public transport more. You can also switch off electronics when not using them and install solar panels.

Offsetting your Emissions

Offsetting your carbon emissions is the action or process of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions, by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Schemes can include planting trees, like mangroves, and turning biogas into renewable fuel.

This means that whether you are vegan, or could never be, live car-free or drive every day, your carbon footprint will still be ZERO: removing your environmental impact on the planet.


An ecological footprint is a tangible way of measuring the demands that, we as individuals, families, communities, countries, and the world have on the environment. At the moment, humanity's ecological footprint is demanding more resources than our Earth has. It will run out. And sooner than we are ready for.


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