Introducing Ecological and Carbon Footprints
The ecological and carbon footprints place emphasis on the environmental
dimension of sustainable development, rather than the economic or social
dimensions. This reduces complexity and in doing so provides a useful
tool for communicating sustainable development to a diverse audience
with varying degrees of sustainability awareness. Once there is a fundamental
realisation that personal lifestyle choices have an impact on the natural
environment, the wider aspects of the concept can begin to be explained
and the interdependence of the three dimensions explored.
The ecological footprint is a calculation of the area of biologically
productive land and water required for a given population to exist at
a given consumption level. Web-based footprint calculators typically
focus upon consumption patterns of the individual lifestyle.
Data is input in answer to a series of questions relating to individual
lifestyle choices, focusing upon issues such as food procurement, transportation,
energy use and waste production. The output is a figure, usually in hectares,
that is the amount of land required to maintain that given lifestyle.
To assess how the individual compares with his or her peers, the individual
output value is frequently compared to one or more of the following:
average footprint of the population of the given country to which
the calculator is calibrated;
The global amount on average of biologically
productive land and water available to each person on the planet;
The number of planets required if everybody on earth chose to follow
the lifestyle of the given individual.
The simplicity of the tool and
the tangible outputs it produces make it highly effective at communicating
sustainable development to a range
of audiences with varying degrees of sustainability awareness.
By focusing on a number of elements of consumption in everyday life,
the ecological footprint increases individual understanding of important
environmental issues. It also enables people to recognise and translate
the impact of their lifestyle choices to a global scale; a link that
remains enigmatic and remote for many.
The ecological footprint is a participative education tool. It offers
the opportunity of building upon students’ experiences in the real
world and of stimulating debate about the issues, the measurements, and
Carbon footprints represent the effect of human activities on the climate
in terms of the quantity of greenhouse gases generated through individual
Web based carbon footprint calculators typically focus questions upon
energy and transportation related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The
output is an overall figure for a given individual in units of carbon
dioxide produced per year (usually kilograms) - their carbon footprint.
Such calculations provide an indication of the climatic impact of specific
aspects of individual lifestyles and help to identify those areas where
more sustainable choices could be made.