Your Ecological Footprint: Defining, Calculating, and Reducing Your Environmental Footprint
Defining and determining ecological footprints
Determining ecological footprint is essentially measuring supply and demand on a global scale for an entire planet's worth of commodities and services. Ecological footprint (EF) analysis does this by assessing the biologically productive land and marine area required to produce the resources a population consumes and absorb the corresponding waste, using prevailing technology. This approach can also be applied to an activity such as the manufacturing of a product or driving of a car, and everything considered in a given footprint analysis is converted into a normalized measure of land area called 'global hectares' (gha). On a large (countries, or continents, for example) scale, footprint analysis is useful for determining to what extent a nation uses more (or less) than is available within its borders, or to what extent the nation's lifestyle would be replicable worldwide. On a smaller scale, EF analysis can be a useful tool to educate people about how their lifestyle compares with the planet's ability to keep up and renew the resources used, with the goal of changing personal behavior to be more sustainable.
Average ecological footprints: where are we now?
Currently, according to the ecological footprint calculator at the Earth Day Network, if everyone in the world lived like the average U.S. citizen -- that is, had similar eating, transportation, living, and consumption habits -- we'd need 5 1/3 planets to support ourselves; the planet has about 4.5 biologically productive acres for each person in the world, and the average ecological footprint in the US is 24 acres. Yikes.
But should those numbers even mean anything? Read more to see some ideas for how ecological footprints should be calculated.