The earth is dying. That’s no secret.

But, what specifically is our individual impact?

The ecological footprint is an important environmental tool to understand the exact impact each person is having on the planet and how to make important changes to live a sustainable and eco-chic lifestyle. Understanding your impact on the earth will help to make important changes and, hopefully, help this wonderful planet we live on last a little bit longer.

What is an ecological footprint?

An ecological footprint calculates the supply of natural resources — forests, water, non-developed land —available in a given geographical area and the amount that is being used by each person or population in the area. This available land is given a fancy term: biocapacity. Each country has a different biocapacity depending on its ecological impact. This impact is assessed by analyzing the imports and exports of the country, and if the given territory has a high export rate, it is an ecological creditor or alternatively an ecological debtor if ecological imports are greater. Sounds complicated, right? Let’s break it down further.

An ecological footprint is the demand each individual, city, or country has on the available resources in a given territory. Each person has an ecological footprint within their specific country that can be calculated depending on their lifestyle. The Global Footprint Network has a decent ecological footprint calculator that will evaluate your mobility, food consumption, energy usage, and the amount of resources used per month. Each of these factors will either increase or decrease the size of a person’s ecological footprint.

The Impact of the Carbon Footprint

The ecological footprint encompasses not only an individual’s carbon footprint, but also their environmental standing. This provides a more accurate description of a person’s overall impact on the planet. The carbon footprint within this calculator relates to energy usage, for example the use of a car or public transit and electricity in the home. The carbon footprint makes up most of the ecological footprint because of the high reliance on CO2 emissions for transportation and energy usage. My personal ecological footprint results indicated that 57 per cent of my footprint was due to carbon emissions. I travel using public transit and live in a one bedroom apartment; yet the CO2 emissions are still high due to unsustainable usage of CO2 emissions in daily life.

The Ecological Footprint Calculator

When completing the ecological footprint quiz, it will ask you to create an avatar and lead you to different areas of the screen to measure usage of food, shelter, mobility, goods, and services. As a vegan, the calculator indicated that food was 23 per cent of my ecological footprint, and I used 26 per cent crop land. When I edit the footprint to include eating meat daily, it indicates that food becomes 30 per cent of ecological footprint and uses 32 per cent crop lands.

When the quiz is complete, the results include a measurement of your footprint measured in global hectares. This is a common measuring tool to assess the amount of resources humans use in various parts of the world. A global hectare is a unit that measures the average productivity of biocapacity of a specific viable area in a given year, including croplands, pastures and waterways. It is then used in the results of the ecological footprint to assess how many global hectares each person uses in a year from their personal resource usage. The results also show how many earths would be needed if each person lived with that specific amount of resources. For example, if everyone was vegan and lived in a small apartment, while using public transportation like I do, we would need 2.6 earths to make up the resources we use. The average for each Ontarian is 3.58 earths.

How to Reduce your Ecological Footprint

So, we’ve made the calculations and things look pretty depressing. What now?

A few ideas include using public transit and using alternative modes of transportation such as biking or walking. If you have to use a vehicle, make it something like an electric car. Sorry carnivores, but eating meat daily also uses high levels of carbon emissions and crop lands. According to the Global Footprint Network, “if every Ontarian pledged to reduce meat eating by half, it would reduce the amount of global hectares consumed by 5, 600 global hectares or 7843 soccer fields”. Using energy efficient light bulbs, and newer appliances also saves energy, as well as money on your electricity bill. Furthermore, recycling and composting is an easy and simple way to help live sustainably and responsibly.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged by the results of your ecological footprint! Understanding and realizing your impact on the earth is the first step to making a difference. By calculating your ecological footprint, it will help to understand which specific areas you need to be focused on to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.



Kaeleigh Phillips is Women's Post sustainability coordinator. She specializes in writing about issues relating to the environment, including renewable energy, cycling, and vegan recipes!

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