This section has been compiled by Daniel Ellison a geography teacher from Little Heath School, West Berkshire. Many of the ideas outlined below have been used at the school with Key Stage 3 pupils. Initially Year 9 pupils worked with ideas before they went on to lead Year 7 and 8 pupils in activities. These activities led to pupils taking formulate individual action plans and group actions such as assemblies, an appearance on local radio to influence their community and then to plan campaigns to influence their local community’s footprint.

If we can see the outcome of an environmental event we can usually understand it, but issues such as sustainable development are hard to grasp as you cannot see them.

The measurement of ecological and carbon footprints of a population or individual allows people to actually see the issue being discussed, making it significantly easier to discuss. Some of the questions below and the suggested activities could be worked through and the pupil’ responses assessed as to their changes before and after undertaking the activities.

Suggested activity (41k download)

Excel spreadsheet for use with activities below (58k download)

The following questions can be answered using the various calculators (summary and evaluation page)

  • Why do ecological footprints change in size?

  • What can I do to change the size of my footprint?

  • What can my community do to change the size of their footprint?

  • What are the social, political and environmental consequences if I try to reduce the size of my footprint?

  • What is sustainable development? What has it got to do with ecological footprints?

What is an ecological footprint? How much land do I need to survive?
1. City footprint
Time 15-10 mins
Resources: paper, pencils and pens
Students imagine what will happen if you cover a city with a glass dome through which light and heat can enter but nothing can leave.

In Practice: Draw a city on the board and discuss with the group what makes a city function. Establish the city’s key inputs (food, water, trade, air etc.) and key outputs (waste etc.)

Once these have been established draw a glass dome over the city. In groups ask students to draw their own city with a dome and ask them to label the city showing what will happen. Many of them will pick up on pollution, lack of access to resources and problems with waste. They can be encouraged to think of secondary impacts such as increases in disease and conflict.

Debrief what students have found by letting them add to the city on the board. Now ask them to draw another city with a dome over it, but this time they must imagine how big the dome will need to be to support it (how many hectares for forest, water, waste, crops, oil?).

Debrief by discussing how Earth is isolated in space and what may happen if we place greater demand on resources than there is supply. Explain what an ecological footprint is (an estimate of the amount of land and water that is actually needed by a population such as a city).

2. My island
Time 30-50 mins
Resources: paper, pencils, pens, what makes up a typical footprint (link 4)
Students draw an island that shows how much land they need to survive and what it is needed for.

They can then go on to explore the resources needed for their lifestyle by investigating their luxury resources.

In Practice: Students write a list of the basic resources they need for survival and an estimate of what they use each year with a rough estimate how much of each resource they use.

They then draw a scale on a plain A3 sheet or paper or graph paper, with a clear scale of 10cm to 100m.

Ask students to draw out the areas of land and water that they think will be needed to supply them with each of their basic resources. These do not need to be very accurate; it is the idea of the ecological footprint that is important at this stage and not the accuracy.

Now go on to list and map their luxury resources, doing this will give students the chance to explore differences in lifestyle as it is principally the differences on luxury resources that have greatest impact on EF size and especially fossil fuels.

Debrief by asking students what the map shows, how it could be used, what would happen if they did not have enough land for their basic resources? This is a good launch activity for an EF quiz as students are likely to understand and even want to explore greater accuracy in their work.

Why calculate ecological footprints?
1. The carrying capacity of a boat
Time 20-40 mins
In groups of four, students are given a selection of food and a bottle of water either ‘virtual or real’.

They prepare and show a small play about a group of four people in a boat, at sea with only a limited amount of food. What happens?

In Practice: Students are put into groups of four and given a selection of food and a bottle of water.

Give them parameters by telling them how long it will take to get to land, how much food and water is available and how long they can survive without food and water.

Make sure that it is possible to reach land, but only if at some point one of the group leave the boat. Ask the students to think through the mathematics and then come up with a short play based on what could happen on the boat.

Debrief by making the point that just like their boat, Earth only has limited amounts of resources and people place demands on them.

Explain that when studying the environment carrying capacity is the total population an area is able to support given the resources and technology available, just as the boat had a given carrying capacity.
While they could count the supply of food and then demand upon it relatively easily a more sophisticated method is needed for the supply of world resources… the ecological footprint calculator.

2. The carrying capacity of Twister: the supply and demand of spots
Time: 10 mins
Resources: twister Board or something similar

Idea and Practice: Students play a game of Twister, adding one limb at a time to the board. The circles represent resources. At what point does overshoot (the point where human consumption and waste production exceeds nature’s natural ability to create new resources and absorb waste) occur? What is the carrying capacity (total population that the board can support) of the Twister board?

Are ecological footprints the same around the world? Do wealth and development change the size of a footprint?
Wealth and footprints
Time: 20-40 mins
Resource: Graph paper, pencils and relevant data from this website

Idea: Students produce a scatter graph by plotting GDP per capita against carbon or ecological footprint sizes of nations.

In practice: Give students a table of data that shows the name, GDP and footprint size of several nations. Unless you wish to focus on a particular income group make sure you have a fair spread of countries from different regions and wealth groups, student resource 1 has a range of useful information. Using graph paper ask students to label the axis’s GDP per capita (0 to 35,000) on the Y axis and ecological footprint size (0 to 10 if 1999 data) on the X axis.

They should then find the corresponding data for GDP and footprint size for each nation and plot it on the graph with a small cross where they meet. In another colour they should label each cross with the countries name (they could use three colours for country labels that represent high, medium and low levels of development as shown on student resource 1, spatial data).

Once all of the nations have been plotted students can draw a line of best fit. Is there a positive correlation?

Debrief the group by discussing the overall trend and any anomalies. Explain the correlations found by writing a short paragraph. What might be the reasons for any anomalies? Is there any pattern between levels of development and the size of a footprint?

Have ecological footprints always been the same size?
Generations of Footprints
Students question a group of people about their lifestyle when they were the interviewee’s age. The student records the data and presents it in a graph.

In Practice: Students complete an ecological footprint questionnaire for themselves. They then question four people who are at least ten years apart in age. These people must imagine what their lifestyle was like when they were the same age as the interviewee. The participants may well all be family members and this could work particularly well as students explore what life was like for those close to them. Students can now analyse the data by seeing how and why the footprints change overtime. They may also compare there generational footprint to historical data on ecological footprints.

Global 1: Ecological Footprint Living Graph
Students use a line graph showing the ecological footprint of all nations as a ‘living graph’ (Leat: Thinking Skills, Chris Kington Publishing; 1998). Students annotate the graph using prompt cards to explain its changes. These may include real events such as changes in oil supply, periods of recession, changes in the number and size of commercial flights or changes to food production, packaging and transport. The cards may also include fictitious experiences of individuals like not being able to afford to go on holiday or loosing their job.

Will ecological footprints always be the same size?
Individual futures
Students complete an ecological footprint calculation for various stages in their life so far. On a graph with years 0 to 150 students then plot how their footprint has changed in size. Students then predict how their individual footprint will change into the future and why.

In Practice: You either need a EF calculator that is sensitive to quantities or imaginative students. Ask students to calculate / estimate their ecological footprint from birth to present. Discuss the key events that make their EF change like eating more food, not needing nappies anymore and having more money. Now establish key events in their futures that may change the size of their footprints like buying a car, travelling abroad more or buying a private jet. Will their footprint change in size again as they get older, have children or retire? Ask students to list the key events, when they will happen and predict how it will affect the size of their ecological footprint. In another colour to their ‘true’ EF ask students to complete the graph by drawing a line that considers when their EF will change size. Ask them to annotate the graph, explaining when it will change and why. They can then go on to plan how to manage the size of their EF.

Global 2: Best, likely and worst futures…
Students use an incomplete graph from 1960 to 2060 that only shows EF data until 1999. They are given a number of scenarios to sort into best, worst and likely scenarios. Based on these they predict the remaining possibilities by completing the line graph and annotating the outcomes.

In Practice: Handout an EF 1960 to 2060 worksheet to all students. Discuss the trends shown on the graph (possibly with the help of ‘Global 1’ or data on oil, GDP, population etc.) and annotate the key events. Now ask students to imagine what the graph might show over the next 60 years. In groups ask students create a mind map of any key issues or events that could effect the results. You may well want to give cards with scenarios to groups that they can sort into best, likely and worst future events for support and ideas. Now, on their graphs, ask students to draw three EF lines coming from the actual EF data, for the best, likely and worst possible futures. They should annotate and explain their lines, showing clearly the issues or events that have altered their futures over time.

Following this activity students can plan out what actions that could be taken on an individual, national and global level to encourage their best possible outcome and avoid the worst.