Relating Eco and Carbon Footprints to the Curricula of Geography, Science, DT and Citizenship

As has been pointed out many times before the teaching of ESD fits most comfortably with Geography and Citizenship. Geography has had a substantial emphasis on development education for many years and ESD clearly prepares students to become more active citizens. However Science and Design and Technology are both underrated when it comes to delivery of ESD and eco and carbon footprints work especially well with elements embedded in the curriculum and specifications at all Key Stages for each subject. What is outlined below is how best to use the eco and carbon footprint calculators base on current (2004) specifications and QCA/DfES schemes of work.


As the QCA ESC website so succinctly states “Geography is a focus within the curriculum for understanding and resolving issues about the environment and sustainable development. It can inspire pupils to think about their own place in the world, their values, and their rights and responsibilities to other people and the environment.” Eco and carbon footprint calculators are an excellent way of introducing those responsibilities.

Enquiry skills are encouraged at all Key Stages in Geography. Both types of footprint calculators give students the chance to set up their own enquiry, pose questions and discuss potential solutions.

Using footprints also helps to meet NC/5:
Knowledge and understanding of environmental change and sustainable development
a) recognise how people can improve the environment [for example by reclaiming derelict land] or damage it [for example, by polluting a river], and how decisions about places and environment affect the future quality of people's lives.
b) recognise how and why people may seek to manage environments sustainably, and to identify opportunities for their own involvement.

Two units within the QCA/DfES schemes of work would also benefit from including footprint calculators, namely Unit 14 Can the earth cope? Ecosystems, population and resources and Unit 23 Local action, global effects.

Specifications vary at GCSE and A Level but footprint calculators would be useful within People and Environment units at GCSE as the concept of carrying capacity is well illustrated. Also at GCSE the transport, waste and homes elements of the eco footprint can be used to illustrate concepts and ideas in Places and People and Managing Natural Resources units.

At A Level eco and carbon footprints can be used within the following units:
People and Climate, Economic Activity and Change, Energy Resources, The Changing Natural Environment and Population and Economic Development.


Participation and responsible action is encouraged throughout the Key Stages in Citizenship. Eco and carbon footprint calculators are participatory in nature and lead students to examine the impact their individual actions have on the environment.

One example given on the QCA ESD website states:
“ KS3/3c
Developing skills of participation and responsible action
c) reflect on the process of participating
Pupils might canvass and share ideas about how their community could become more sustainable. The pupils might prepare a display at the local council buildings, or design a consultation process to involve local people, including young people, businesses and other groups (e.g. through meetings in the town hall and interviews).

As part of this, pupils might ask about how different people are usually consulted, or make their views known to the local authority, and how this process might be improved. Pupils might then present their ideas for improving participation, perhaps involving the use of ICT.”

At KS3 one unit in the QCA/DfES scheme of work would benefit from using the eco and carbon footprints to spark discussion; Unit 10 Debating a global issue. At KS4 Unit 9 Consumer rights and responsibilities can use the footprints to illustrate the impact of consumer behaviour on other people - locally, nationally and globally. Unit 12 Global issues, local action can use footprints to help students understand how to contribute to local decisions that will influence quality of life and the environment in the future.


Key concepts in science, such as diversity and interdependence, are also key concepts in ESD. Any work at any Key Stage which emphasises these concepts would benefit from using the eco and carbon footprint calculators. Clearly also work on energy would benefit from using the carbon calculator as outlined below.

In the National Curriculum at KS3 and 4 the following parts of the programme of study can be illustrated by using the calculators:
KS 3/Sc2/5a
Living things in their environment
a) about ways in which living things and the environment can be protected, and the importance of sustainable development


Materials and their properties, Changing materials
i) possible effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment [for example, production of acid rain, carbon dioxide and solid particles]

Energy resources
a) about the variety of energy resources, including oil, gas, biomass, food, wind, waves and batteries, and the distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources

KS4/Sc2/4b, c
Living things in their environment
b) how the impact of humans on the environment depends on social and economic factors, including population size, industrial processes and levels of consumption and waste
c) about the importance of sustainable development

Energy resources and energy transfer
b) about the efficient use of energy, the need for economical use of energy resources, and the environmental implications of generating energy

Within the QCA/DfES schemes of work two units would benefit from students using the carbon footprint calculators, namely, Unit 7I Energy resources and
Unit 8I Heating and cooling.

Although specifications vary at GCSE and A Level there are many units which would benefit from the inclusion of work on eco and carbon footprints especially as the concept of carrying capacity is so well illustrated by using these tools. At GCSE the units which lend themselves to work using the footprint calculators are The Environment, Exploring Energy, Managing Energy and Science and Society. A Level Biology and Chemistry have more opportunities than Physics to use the footprint calculators, especially units on Ecology and Chemistry and the Quality of Life.

Design and Technology

Despite common misconceptions ESD is at the heart of teaching and learning in Design and Technology. As the QCA ESD website states, “At each key stage, design and technology prepares pupils to participate in tomorrow's rapidly changing technologies. They learn to think and intervene creatively to improve quality of life [developing understanding of the principles of sustainable design and production systems]. At key stage 4 specifically, pupils consider how technology affects society and their own lives, and learn that new technologies have both advantages and disadvantages.”

All units within the QCA/DfES schemes of work could actually be prefaced with a statement such as, “At all times pupils should be asked to consider the environmental, economic and social implications of the resources used. They should take these into account before using or considering the use of particular materials. They should be prepared to justify such use, including instances where it may be appropriate to use materials or practices that are not sustainable (e.g. intensively produced food may be much cheaper and therefore affordable). Pupils should also consider the impact of the final product, including its potential for recycling or reuse where appropriate.” (Source
At GCSE all the statements above apply even though specifications vary. Also units on Manufacturing Food would benefit from using the eco footprint to examine food miles.