Global Footprint Network has developed a method to measure our ecological footprint. Everything we produce and consume and build takes resources from our planet, such as wood, fish, etc. Everything is calculated down to how much land is required. Every building requires land, every farm requires land, and producing energy requires land—wind and solar, for example. When activities put CO2 in the atmosphere, we can remove and sequester it, such as by planting trees, but that also requires land. Everything can be calculated to require some acres of land. That is how you measure and report the ecological footprint. The goal is to standardize how we measure our footprint so we can track it globally for every city, country, business, etc. to enforce any regulations and track progress toward our goals.
We only have one planet for the global population, and currently, the world lives as if it has 1.75 planets. We will need to reduce our ecological footprint to live within one planet. Each year, Global Footprint Network records when we overshoot our one planet resources for the year. In 2018, for example, we overshot our resources by August. This is called the Earth Overshoot Day. That means we are using up existing stock, like cutting down trees, or putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than our one planet can replenish or balance. As we continue this overuse of our planet, we will eventually deplete existing resources and face the consequences.
On their website, you can calculate your own ecological footprint and see other reports of the current ecological footprints of specific countries and cities.
There are a few other organizations that have developed a footprint calculator. Another common method to calculate your footprint is to measure your carbon footprint, which indicates how much CO2 a product or your life emits. For example, eating beef makes more CO2 emissions than plants. Measuring in terms of carbon is easy to understand and valuable, but I don’t think it can be applied to all things. In the longer term, if we look at becoming net zero and not burning fossil fuels, this measurement will become less useful.
We need to make this measurement standard and transparent and report on this every day, every quarter, every year, just like we do our GDP and stock market value, to bring more awareness and track progress. I would like to see the ecological footprint number on every product I buy and every meal I order from a restaurant to help me understand and make sustainable decisions. I’d like to see my own ecological footprint, as well as those of my building, my city, and my country, and compare it with others.