Chapter 1.10: Ecological Footprints

An ecological footprint quantifies the amount of global resources, both land and water, needed to support an individual, household, city or larger population. This includes both our resource needs (think food, water and consumables) and the amount of land required to absorb the CO2 we emit.  Experts estimate that the Earth has about 12 billion hectares (ha) of biologically productive land, or about 2 ha for each person on Earth. To put things into perspective, the EF for the average US citizen is about 10 ha, meaning that it takes 10 ha to supply what we currently consume to maintain our standard of living in the US. 

Our EF is closely tied to the carrying capacity of the Earth, which is the total population that the Earth can sustainably support.  Because the base of productive land is relatively constant (or decreasing, considering stressors like development and desertification), how many people the Earth can support is dependent upon the size of our EFs.  The obvious challenge is to manage global resources sustainably so that everyone can enjoy a decent standard of living now and in the future without destroying the Earth’s natural resource base.

Background Materials:

Ecological Footprint basics from the Global Footprint Network also include details on methodologies, data and results:

To view the Global Footprint Network’s 2010 Atlas, visit


Textbook References and Links:

The environmental footprint calculator provided by the World Wildlife Fund includes impacts from the consumption of food, transportation, use and disposal of consumer products, and characteristics of your home:

A fun, quick-and-dirty breakdown of your ecological footprint can be found at:

Exercise 1. On the Global Footprint Network Science overview, click Data and Results link to explore interactive maps:

 Exercise 2:  Search the Global Footprint Network 2010 Atlas for Figures 7 and 8 to address these questions:


Downloadable data and files: NA