The Ecological Footprint: A resource accounting framework for measuring human demand on the biosphere

News Published 23 Nov 2005 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
3 min read
The 2005 Edition of the 'National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts' are now available.

The European Environment Agency in coordination with Global Footprint Network presents:
The National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts, 2005 Edition

What is Ecological Footprint accounting?
Because people consume products and services, all of which require resources and generate waste, every one of us places demands on the Earth. Nature can keep up with these demands as long as they stay within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere, the living part of the planet.

Ecological Footprint accounting measures the extent to which the ecological demand of human economies stays within or exceeds the capacity of the biosphere to supply goods and services. These accounts help individuals, organisations, and governments frame policies, set targets, and track progress toward sustainability.

Such accounting is possible because resource and waste flows can be tracked, and most of these flows can be associated with the amount and type of biologically productive areas required to maintain them. The Footprint of a population is the total amount of biologically productive land and water area that the population requires to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the waste it generates, using current technology. Since people consume resources and ecological services from all over the world, their Footprint is the sum of these areas, regardless of where they are located on the planet.

The Ecological Footprint can be applied at scales ranging from single products to households, organisations, cities, regions, nations, and humanity as a whole. The Footprint is used by governments, businesses, and organisations to measure and manage sustainability efforts, from communication and planning to implementation and evaluation of results.


The 2005 Edition Ecological Footprint Accounts
The development of the 2005 Edition of the National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts was sponsored by the European Environment Agency. These new accounts have generated the most accurate Ecological Footprint results to date, which are now available through the year 2002. The greatest improvement since the previous edition has been the addition of detailed trade statistics, which allow us to more accurately track imports and exports of Footprint and biocapacity at the national level.

These updated accounts are explained in more detail in the upcoming 2005 European Environment Agency publication "Europeans use 2.1 Europes - how the planet and the world's largest economy interact." This report documents in detail the relationships between Europe and the world's ecosystems, and shows how social, political, and economic forces shape these relationships. It explores how Europe affects the global biosphere as a whole, and how actions external to its borders affect the health of Europe's ecosystems. The report also examines future policy choices and how these might influence the balance between Europe's supply of and demand on ecosystem resources, addressing what decisions made today may mean for the well-being of Europe's citizens tomorrow.

The Earth's biologically productive area is approximately 11.2 billion hectares, or 1.8 global hectares per person in 2002 (assuming that no capacity is set aside for wild species). Global hectares are hectares of biologically productive area with world-average productivity. This standardised measurement unit, or 'ecological currency,' makes comparisons of demand and supply possible across the world.

In 2002, humanity's demand on the biosphere, its global Ecological Footprint, was 13.7 billion global hectares, or 2.2 global hectares per person. Thus in 2002, humanity's Ecological Footprint exceeded global biocapacity by 0.4 global hectares per person, or 23 percent. This finding indicates that the human economy is in ecological overshoot: the planet's ecological stocks are being depleted faster than nature can regenerate them. This means that we are eroding the future supply of ecological resources and operating at the risk of environmental collapse.

More detailed results for EU-25 nations and over 120 other countries around the world are included in the attached data sheets.

The Method's Development
Created by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in the early 1990s, the Ecological Footprint methodology has matured considerably over the past twenty years. Development and standardisation of this accounting method are currently coordinated by Global Footprint Network, founded in 2003, and its 50 partner organisations. More on the science and methodology used to create Ecological Footprint accounts, examples of how they are used to advance sustainability, and ways to get copies of the accounts can be found on Global Footprint Network's website at

Download: Global footprint - data


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