The Briefing

How big is your ecological footprint?

Size really does matter.

August 19, 2021
Reading time 2 min.

🌈 A quick taster for you:

  • An ecological footprint is not the same as a carbon footprint — but your carbon footprint is one part of your ecological footprint.
  • Your ecological footprint shows the area of land and water required to produce the goods you consume, and assimilate the waste you create.
  • There are 1.6 global hectares available for each person on earth.

🧐 Why do I care?

  • On 09 August 2021, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published, and it doesn’t exactly inspire hope! But to be honest, we didn't really expect anything else. As the 230 lead authors wrote, "It is clear that human activity has warmed the atmosphere." 
  • So what can we do? Instead of waiting for companies to act, or for governments to implement regulations, we can start with ourselves. And to do that, let's take a look at our ecological footprint.  

🔍 What exactly is happening here?

  • Ecological footprint — what is it?
    The ecological footprint indicates the area required for a person (or a company, a city, or a whole country!) to produce the goods they consume, and assimilate the waste they create. Okay, but what does that really mean?
  • The big four 
    What you eat, where you shop, how you travel, and the home you live in are four factors that have a big impact on your ecological footprint. And, by making small changes in these areas, we can each save tonnes of CO2. 
  • Measuring the world
    The resources needed for food, purchases, travel and housing can all be measured. For example, our homes require building materials, and we use energy every time we switch on the lights or turn up the heating. It’s possible to calculate the area of resources, like wood or water, that are needed for us to maintain our lifestyle — as well as calculating the area needed to dispose of our waste. 
  • The carbon footprint is part of the ecological footprint
    Each time we burn fossil fuels — perhaps while driving a non-electric car, or buying a product that uses fossil fuels in its production — we are releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Calculating our carbon footprint is therefore an important part of the ecological footprint. In order to offset the CO2 that we emit, forests are needed as areas to store carbon.

🤓 What does this mean for me?

  • Three earths are two too many!
    Each person in the world currently has 1.6 gha (global hectares) available for their ecological footprint. But, the ecological footprint of Germans is currently 4.9 gha. So, if everyone lived a similar lifestyle to people in Germany, then our planet earth would not be enough... we would need three earths! 
  • Find out the size of your ecological footprint
    There are different calculators you can use to find out the size of your personal ecological footprint. If you want a quick estimate, head over to “Brot für die Welt”, answer 13 quick questions, and also get tips on how to reduce your footprint. For a more comprehensive estimate, visit The Federal Environment Agency and calculate your CO2 footprint in more detail.

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