una chica y un bosque pensando sobre la huella ecológica

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Have you ever wondered how many croplands, grazing lands, or forests are needed to satisfy your lifestyle? This question can be answered by measuring the ecological footprint of each person. The decisions we make have a direct impact on the planet, from the diet we follow to the means of transportation we use. On this page, we explain to you what the ecological footprint is and how to measure it. We also give you a few tips on some sustainable habits that you can adopt to reduce it.

What is an ecological footprint?

An environmental footprint is an international sustainability indicator that, as defined by its authors, measures "the area of biologically productive land needed to produce the resources consumed and assimilate the waste generated."

An ecological footprint is used to calculate the degree of impact our lifestyle has on the environment. Hence, it's also known as environmental footprint.

The concept of ecological footprint was developed in 1996 by William Rees, a university professor, biologist, and ecologist, and Mathis Wackernagel, mechanical engineer and current president of the Global Footprint Network. The goal was not just to arrive at a formula for calculating the ecological footprint of each human activity, but also to compare it to the Earth's biocapacity. This would make it possible to obtain a realistic picture of the natural resources we have available and how they're being consumed.

What is the ecological footprint used for?

After having defined the ecological footprint, we know that it's an important indicator for measuring sustainability. Therefore, knowing what it is used for helps us understand what happens if we extract more natural resources from the planet than can be regenerated naturally.

The purpose of this indicator is to measure the productive land used and to determine if the planet is capable of taking on the waste that is generated afterwards. Currently, this balance indicates that resource consumption and waste production are higher than the planet's biocapacity, hence the importance of measures aimed at caring for the environment and preserving natural resources.

How is an ecological footprint calculated?

By measuring the human ecological footprint, we can determine the sustainability of our lifestyle and the Earth's biocapacity. It's a good starting point for assessing the current situation and limiting the impact of people's activities to protect and care for the environment.

Several hands holding a small plant

Before calculating it, it's important to note that to measure a sustainable footprint four factors have to be taken into account:

  • Materials and energy are needed to produce any good or service
  • Environmental systems as required to absorb the waste generated in the production processes of those final goods or services
  • The use of infrastructure and equipment reduces the acres of surface land that could be allocated to productive ecosystems

By keeping in mind these factors, we can then make the calculation based on the following:

  1. Biocapacity of the planet: The capacity of the planet to generate resources.
  2. Human activity: The resources consumed and disposed due to our activity.

Therefore, the simplest formula to understand how to calculate an ecological footprint would look like this: 

Ecological footprint = Consumption / Productivity

Now that we know this information, we have to subtract the resources consumed by each individual from the resources generated by the planet in a single year. The result will be the global hectares (hag) required by each person to satisfy their lifestyle and assimilate the waste it generates.

If after doing this calculation the result is an ecological deficit, or also known as ecological debt, it'll mean that currently there's a lack of biological areas to meet the needs of human beings. You can calculate your ecological footprint through the Global Footprint Network.

These three indicators are interconnected and offer us a global representation of the current situation to make more environmentally-friendly decisions.

Tips for reducing our ecological footprint

As we have seen, an ecological footprint is directly related to each individual's lifestyle. Therefore, the commitment of all members of society, whether it be as a group or individually, is fundamental. Improving the way we produce, choose, and consume is the first step in reducing our ecological footprint.

By consuming responsibly and putting more sustainable habits into practice, we can reduce it considerably. Here are some tips for making it happen:

vivienda sostenible: una mujer reciclando tarros de vidrio

Sustainable households

  • At home, we can sort and recycle the trash properly by using the different types of containers and waste collection facilities available, which extends the life cycle of products and materials
  • Opt for high energy efficiency appliances and avoid appliances that use the most electricity
  • Fit your home with double-pane windows and insulate the walls and ceilings to keep it warm in the winter and cold in the summer
transporte sostenible: una mujer con su bicicleta y aerogeneradores eólicos de fondo

Sustainable transportation

  • Use public transportation to aid in reducing air and noise pollution
  • Choose a means of transportation such as a bicycle or scooter to prevent greenhouse emissions
  • Another sustainable mobility option is a temporary car rental service known as carsharing, which makes it possible to rent a car by the minute to travel short distances
desenchufando cables para ahorrar energía

Save energy

  • Use the heating and air conditioning responsibly as it's an excellent way to cut your ecological footprint, while maintaining the recommended temperature in buildings between 19-2ºC in winter and 23-25ºC in summer
  • Unplug electronic devices when not in use
  • Only run appliances like the washer or dishwasher on a full load
Local produce with a carbon neutral product tag

Commit to a sustainable diet

  • Choose local foods in season as that avoids medium and long distance transportation, and therefore, reduces CO2 emissions
  • Control the consumption of red and processed meats by limiting the intake to 200-300 grams per week as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Use bags and containers made with sustainable materials