What is an ecological footprint?

Close up of foot of chimpanzee / Close up of underside / sole of human foot (Homo sapiens) / Close ... / ©: naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF
Close up of foot of chimpanzee / Close up of underside / sole of human foot (Homo sapiens) / Close up foot of Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)
© naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF
In 2007, the Earth’s people used about 50% more natural resources than the planet could regenerate.1

A measure of the impact humans have on the environment is called an ecological footprint. A country’s ecological footprint is the sum of all the cropland, grazing land, forest and fishing grounds required to produce the food, fibre and timber it consumes, to absorb the wastes emitted when it uses energy and to provide space for infrastructure.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2010 found that in 2007 the global ecological footprint was 18 billion hectares. 

This means that the Earth’s people needed 18 billion hectares of productive land in order to provide each and every person with the resources they required to support their lifestyle and to absorb the wastes they produced. 

The bad news is that there were only 11.9 billion global hectares available.2

This means that in 2007 people used about 50% more natural resources than the planet could regenerate.3

The message is clear and urgent. We need to consume less if we are to live within the regenerative capacity of the Earth.

What is Australia’s ecological footprint?

We have been exceeding the Earth’s ability to support our lifestyle. Habitats are being destroyed; our soils and waterways are being degraded. The balance must be restored.

In Australia, we’re consuming more than three times our fair share of the planet’s natural resources. If we continue these consumption patterns, we will face an ecological overshoot that will have far-reaching future consequences for people and nature.

Australians have one of the largest environmental footprints per capita in the world, requiring 6.8 global hectares per person.

If all people consumed the Earth’s resources the way that we do in Australia, it would take the resources of more than three Earths to support us.

Although advances in technology have helped people to produce things more efficiently, the benefits have been over-shadowed by ever-growing levels of consumption. Most of this is by affluent Western economies and the emerging middle classes of the developing world.

More than 50% of humanity’s global footprint comes from carbon emissions; other pressures are linked to commodities such as crops, meat, fish and wood.4

Click here for information about WWF’s Footprint Missions and Goals.


1. Living Planet Report, WWF, GFN and ZSL, 2010
2. Living Planet Report, WWF, GFN and ZSL, 2010
3. Living Planet Report, WWF, GFN and ZSL, 2010

4. Living Planet Report, WWF, GFN and ZSL, 2010

Australians currently consume three times more than the planet’s natural resources.