Ecological Footprint


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The ecological footprint measure human demand on the ecosystem, and is an indicator of the volume of the ecosystem humans consume. This footprint is measured on a scale where 1.0 indicates that human consumption of ecological resources is equivalent to the volume of ecological resources nature produces in a year. Thus, when the ecological footprint in 1.0, humans are consuming exactly the quantity of ecological resources nature produces in a given year.

The ecological footprint measure was first suggested by William Rees in the early 1990s, and was later developed further by Mathias Wackernagel. Data on the global ecological footprint and the footprint for nations is maintained by the Global Footprint Network ( GFN Link).

The current world ecological footprint is 1.5. That figure means that in one year, humans consume 1.5 years of ecological resources produced by nature. That level of use is ecologically unsustainable and eats into the volume of raw material available and nature’s ability to reproduce the ecosystem. The human ecological footprint exceed 1.0 for the first time in the mid-1980s, and has generally illustrated a tendency to rise over time, though in recent years, the footprint has remained stable though unsustainable. A graph of the ecological footprint over time may be found HERE.

Th ecological footprints of nations are unequal, and developed nations have much larger ecological footprints than developing and underdeveloped nations. Thus, it is developed nations that cause the greatest level of ecological strain and the greatest threat to ecological stability (see for example, Jorgenson, 2003). Information on the ecological footprint of nations can be accessed HERE. A graph of the ecological footprints for a sample of nations can be located HERE.

With respect to green criminology, the ecological footprint can be used as a measure of ecological destruction and to examine variability in ecologically destructive tendencies across nations.

Further Reading


Jorgenson, Andrew K. (2003). Consumption and Environmental Degradation: A Cross-National Analysis of the Ecological Footprint. Social Problems. 50, 3: 374-394.

Rees, Willam E. (1992). Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: what urban economics leaves out. Environment and Urbanisation 4 (2): 121–130.

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