Shopping Cart

Would you like to stay informed? Subscribe to our newsletter here


‘Ecological footprint’, what exactly does it mean?

How do you calculate your own CO² emissions? Or what is the definition of the ecological footprint? You can read it here, at ETIKL Magazine.

Anyone wanting to know how sustainable his or her lifestyle is often uses the popular criterion 'ecological footprint'. This expresses how many hectares you need to satisfy your consumption behaviour in terms of food production, amount of water, waste disposal, etc. Find out here what the concept 'ecological footprint' means exactly, how to put it in perspective and how relevant it still is today.

The ecological footprint is a scientific concept that expresses the size of the earth's surface that we as individuals, families, organisations or groups need for our consumption. The term was launched in 1992 by environmental economist Dr William Rees and his PhD student Mathis Wackernagel at the Canadian University of British Columbia.

"The ecological footprint is the estimated land required by a person or group of persons to produce what is consumed and absorb what is discarded. It is expressed in hectares. One hectare corresponds to an area of 10 000 m²."

- Meaning ecological footprint according to Environment Belgium

Fair Earth Share

It is no secret that the wealthiest (western) countries have the largest ecological footprint in the world. Whether your footprint is too big can be measured using the so-called 'Fair Share of Earth'. This is 1.8 hectares. If we were to divide all land with usuable surface on earth among all people and give nature enough space to recover, every person on earth would be entitled to an ecological footprint of 1.8 hectares. So that is the objectif. Does that seem an insane amount? You should know that the footprint of the average Belgian is 5.1 hectares. The common opinion is that we need three earths to sustain the consumption behaviour of the world population. The larger the world population becomes and the more densely populated the earth's surface becomes, the smaller the Fair Earth share and the higher the pressure on our planet.


The ecological footprint is a practical way of making your sustainable efforts as an individual or as a family quantifiable. And although scientists unanimously agree that the average footprint should be smaller, the criterion is also criticised. Years ago, the popular science magazine Eos published an entire issue about 'One Earth Sufficient'. Within that issue, the concept was strongly criticised, among others by Dutch environmental economist Professor Jeroen van den Bergh. "There is a danger that people interpret the size of the ecological footprint as real land. But there is not enough land to plant forests that compensate for CO2 emissions. The footprint automatically punishes all countries with many inhabitants on a small surface."

That the ecological footprint is not enough to capture the full complexity of the environmental issue is confirmed by environmental expert Dr Peter Tom Jones (KU Leuven). "However, scientific shortcomings do not justify an ideological attack on the concept. The idea of the creators of the footprint does remain: we ask too much of our planet. Conclusion: there are various ways of measuring whether or not you are 'doing the right thing', and the ecological footprint is one of them. Complex and large-scale projects obviously need to rely on more than just this concept, but for the consumer it is a useful criterion that shows how much difference your efforts are making.

Want to calculate your own ecological footprint? Good news, because WWF developed an online tool that immediately tells you whether you are approaching the 'Fair Earth share' or not.