Calculating Ecological Footprint Components, and Easy Ways to Reduce Your Impact on Earth.

Every person on Earth uses some of it. Your ecological footprint components comprise the choices you make to sustain your way of life. WHAT DEFINES AN ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT?

More precisely, your ecological footprint is the area of viable, functioning land and water ecosystem that it takes to sustainably:

• Produce the resources you consume, and…

• Detoxify, restore and recycle the wastes that you produce.

Why? Because everything around you is derived from, and eventually returns to, nature. Consider that aluminum can you’re drinking out of: It was manufactured from processed bauxite mined out of the earth.

The mining process ripped up forests, and the manufacturing and processing stages used up clean water and created toxic wastes.

Large amounts of energy derived from non-renewable resources such as oil and gas was consumed to drive the whole supply chain, contributing to greenhouse emissions and further ecosystem damage.

In addition, the Earth must receive all the wastes associated with the can, and use up her life energy to restore the polluted air, soil and water back to functional ecosystem again.

Multiply such impacts by all the things you consume and you’ll get a clearer picture of the role of excessive consumption in global ecological collapse.


Now you know that the area of earth’s ecosystem that your life uses up - your ecological footprint – depends on the amount of resources flowing into your life as consumption and out of your life as waste. So a refined measure of it would include careful account of how you dispose of your waste, how much is recycled and the ecological impact (noxiousness and toxicity) of your waste.

However, because the amount of waste you produce is directly affected by the amount of resources you consume, we can estimate your ecological footprint based mainly on your consumption habits.

The main ecological footprint components that determine how much of the planet must be dedicated to sustaining your lifestyle are:

FOOD: What you eat

GOODS: How many goods you buy

SHELTER: The kind of house you live in

MOBILITY: How, and how far, you travel

Ecological footprint components in Australia

In the year 2000 the national average for ecological footprint in Australia was 8.5 hectares (21.25 acres). The approximate contribution of the various components were food – 32%, goods – 21%, shelter – 29%, and mobility – a little over 18%.

To significantly reduce your ecological footprint you would need to make “lower resource intensity” lifestyle choices in all of these areas. It’s not that difficult, and we consider easy ways of achieving a 50% drop below.

Looking at it from a global perspective:

In the meantime, it is sobering to put our planetary impact into a global perspective.

While Australians “need” 8.5, and US citizens - 12.25, hectares/person, the Earth’s biocapacity to sustainably support humanity is limited to only 1.9 hectares (4.5 acres) for each person. The average ecological footprint worldwide is 2.3 hectares.

Clearly humanity is already consuming beyond the sustainable limits that Earth can support. But before you go pointing the finger at population and the developing world consider this: The 20% of the world who are the “haves” are so rapacious and resource-greedy that they collectively use up about 50% more of the planet than the 80% who are the “have nots”.

What the world needs most is not population control but consumption control!

Global inequity is the main issue here and without it there can be neither global sustainability nor peace.

Ecological footprint of different nations

Amid this shameful inequity and the global ecological demise that it has caused, conspicuous consumption, materialism and growth-centred politics can only be seen as morally repugnant!

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus,
founder of the Grameen Foundation,
and banker for the poor
speaks on the REAL reasons
behind world poverty.

To add further insult to injury we westerners use what we use wastefully and derive little pleasure or joy out of it.

The average German, for example, enjoys a quality of life similar to the average US citizen, but with half the ecological impact. US energy and water use per capita is double that of the rest of the developed world.

While most people on the planet live without electric lighting, the most gluttonous nations gorge themselves with incredible wastefulness and inefficiency. In the USA the material flows/person/day is 20 x each person’s body weight. That means that if you weigh 90 kg, 1.8 tonnes of matter had to be mined, farmed or processed to keep you in the manner to which you have grown accustomed for a single day! Our throw-away mentality is a big part of the problem. According to Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism) of all these massive amounts of materials mobilized to create the products we consume, six months later, 99% of them have been converted into rubbish… 20 tonnes of it per person per year!

The good news is that this leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Massive eco-efficiency gains are not only possible, but also more often than not profitable, being associated with significant financial cost savings.


Estimate YOUR Ecological Footprint by adding up your scores on these ecological footprint components:

1. Your Food Footprint:

1.1 How much meat do you eat?

About a third of the footprint of the average Australian comes from food choices. Assuming your food is produced by modern methods, your food footprint depends heavily upon the way you meet your nutritional needs for protein. In this case, an average omnivore diet has 7 times the footprint of a vegetarian diet: 1.4 hectares (3 ½ acres) compared to only 0.2 hectares (½ acre) per person. The more meat you eat, the higher the impact. So:

• Vegetarian: Food footprint 0.2 hectares

• Eat meat now and then: Food footprint 0.6 hectares

• Eat meat a few times a week: Food footprint 1.3 hectares

• Eat meat most days: Food footprint 2.1 hectares

• Eat meat once or twice a day: Food footprint 2.8 hectares

• Eat meat almost every meal: Food footprint 3.5 hectares

These food footprint estimates are based on the high ecological cost of modern food production methods. Modern monocultures (vast areas devoted to only one type of crop) force-fed on soluble petrochemical fertilizers create pest monocultures from which they must be protected using petrochemical based pesticides and weedicides.

Conventional farming monocultures do not yield as abundantly as integrated, more complex systems such as Permaculture, ancient traditional farming, and nature herself without such expensive inputs. And in integrated systems animals are a very important part of the sustainable living ecology. They do a lot of the work, diminishing the need for energy inputs, as well as adding fertilizer, and controlling pests and weeds.

If you grow your food in a Permaculture system, the ecological impact of occasional meat eating (for example, to cull excessive male animals) will be positive.

1.2 How much of the food that you eat is processed, highly packaged or imported?

The average food item in our western supermarkets has traveled 2000 kilometers from its place of origin, exacting a toll in the consumption of the earth’s finite fuel reserves, with associated carbon emissions. So imported food has a higher footprint than locally grown produce. Similarly, processing is energy expensive, and packaging is a waste of resources and thus both add to the ecological cost of your food choices.

• Very little: Add 0 hectares to your food footprint

• About 25%: Add 0.1 hectares to your food footprint

• About 50%: Add 0.3 hectares to your food footprint

• About 75%: Add 0.5 hectares to your food footprint

• Most of it: Add 0.7 hectares to your food footprint (and take several years off of your life!)ecological footprint components

2. Your Goods Footprint

Garbage bin

What’s your level of material consumption?

The amount of consumer goods you get through contributes about a fifth of your impact on the planet if you are the average Australian. An easy indicator of your level of material consumption is the amount of waste that ends up in your rubbish bin each week. So, compared to people in your neighbourhood, how much waste do you generate?

• Much less: Goods footprint 1 hectare

• About the same: Goods footprint 1.6 hectares

• Much more: Goods footprint 2.1 hectares

Changing fashions, constantly updating technology trends, and the thrill and perceived status of having “new stuff” compels people to throw away perfectly serviceable goods and replace them with new items. All of this adds to the volume of resources taken from Earth and the volume of waste that must be disposed of each year.

3. Your Shelter Footprint

Our dwelling choices account for almost a third of our ecological footprint and growing… It’s an amazing fact that while the number of people living together in Australian households is steadily shrinking, the average size of our homes is on the rise. The average size of new houses rose from 115 square meters in the 1950’s, to 169 square meters in 1990, reaching 267 square meters today. Over the same period household size has declined from 3.6 people per dwelling in 1953, down to 2.7 in 1990, and 2.6 in 2000.

Expressed another way, in 1953 an average new house allowed 32 square meters per occupant, in 1990 it doubled to 63 square meters, and today it has tripled to 107 square meters per person!

The demand for bigger houses drives the demolition of still serviceable older dwellings, while requiring more materials and energy to build. In Perth, Australia, building waste accounts for approximately half of our rubbish output.

3.1 How many people live in your household?

• 1 person: Shelter footprint 2.5 hectares

• 2 people: Shelter footprint 1.3 hectares

• 3 people: Shelter footprint 0.8 hectares

• 4 people: Shelter footprint 0.5 hectares

• 5 people: Shelter footprint 0.4 hectares

• 6 or more: Shelter footprint 0.3 hectares

3.2 How big is your home?

• 50 m2/smaller (caravan): Add 0.1 to shelter footprint

• 50-100 m2 (unit): Add 0.2 to shelter footprint

• 100-150 m2 (duplex/small house): Add 0.3 to shelter footprint

• 150-200 m2 (med house): Add 0.4 to shelter footprint

• 200-250 m2 (large): Add 0.7 to shelter footprint

• 250 m2 or larger (v.large): Add 1.1 to shelter footprint

3.3 How green is the house?

Both solar passive home design and the use of low ecological impact materials (e.g. recycled timbers, windows etc, and renewable or waste materials such as strawbale or tires) significantly cut the ecological impact of your home.

• If your home is green designed or built, take 0.6 hectares OFF your footprint.

3.4 Home energy supply

Our energy use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and ecosystem degradation. You can reduce your impact through the use of renewable energy (e.g. solar and wind power generation) or green electricity (mains power derived from renewable sources). Using mains energy conservatively (e.g. compact fluorescent lighting, energy efficient appliances, short showers, low flow hot water outlets, cold water washing etc) also helps significantly.

• Unless you generate your own renewable power, add 0.5 hectares to your shelter footprint (or 0.4 hectares if you practice energy conservation)

4. Your Mobility Footprint

A few products reduce your ecological footprint

The average person’s mobility (in Australia) accounts for around 18% of their ecological footprint, but this rises dramatically if you like to jet set around a lot. On the other hand, use of public transport and other car alternatives for day to day travel significantly reduce your environmental impact.

4.1 How far do you usually travel on public transport each week?

• 0-10 km: Your travel footprint is 0

• 10-25 km: Your travel footprint is 0.1 ha • 25-100 km: Your travel footprint is 0.2 ha • 100 km or more: Your travel footprint is 0.3 ha

4.2 How far do you usually go by car each week (as a driver or passenger)?

• 0-15 km: Add 0.1 ha to your travel footprint

• 15-50 km: Add 0.2 ha to your travel footprint • 50-150 km: Add 0.5 ha to your travel footprint • 150-300 km: Add 1 ha to your travel footprint • 300-500 km: Add 1.7 ha to your travel footprint

• 500 km or more: Add 2.4 ha to your travel footprint

As you can see, car use contributes heavily to the size of your ecological footprints components impact. In western countries there is a car for every two people, while in developing nations there is one for every 33 people!

4.3 How many liters/100 km does your car consume?

Car fuel efficiency significantly affects the size of your mobility footprint.

• Less than 4.5L/100km (small to average motorbike): Take 0.2 ha OFF your travel footprint! • 4.5-6.5 L/100km (very efficient 4 cylinder car): Take 0.1 ha OFF your travel footprint!

• 6.5-9L/100km (small 4 cylinder car): Add nothing to your travel footprint

• 9-15L/100km (medium vehicle): Add 0.1 ha to your travel footprint

• More than 15L/100km (large 4WD): Add 0.3 ha to your travel footprint

4.4 How often do you share a car with someone else?

Car pooling and sharing are great ways to cut your mobility impacts.

• Almost never: Add 0.2 ha to your travel footprint

• Occasionally (25% of the time): Add 0.1 ha to your travel footprint

• Often (50% of the time): Leave your travel footprint as is

• Very often (75% of the time): Take 0.1 ha OFF your travel footprint

• Almost always: Take 0.2 ha OFF your travel footprint

4.5 About how many hours do you spend flying each year?

Think of yourself as a greenie but like to fly regularly…? Well, think again!

• Never fly: Your travel footprint remains unchanged

• 3 hours: Add 0.1 ha to your travel footprint

• 10 hours: Add 0.4 ha to your travel footprint

• 25 hours: Add 1.2 ha to your travel footprint

• 100 hours: Add 5 ha to your travel footprint

Add up all your impacts to find out what your total ecological footprint is.

A little shocked? Not as "green" as you thought you were? Got reform on your mind? Then read on…


To significantly reduce your planetary impact you need to whittle away at all the ecological footprint components. If you made all of these rather small adjustments to your lifestyle choices you could slash yours by half!!!

• Settle for a smaller, more efficient home, or focus on your family relationships so that you can keep it together! Alternatively consider sharing your house with a parent, friend or grown up child.

• Have a meat-free meal twice a week.

Moderate your consumption by refusing new products, hiring or borrowing instead, reducing the size and amount of what you buy, repairing and reusing wherever possible, and recycling what you do use.

Replace two car trips/week with alternatives such as bicycle, walking, public transport or car sharing.

Backyard farm your food wastes. Diverting all your food wastes to a worm farm or compost bin not only generates great garden fertilizer – it cuts your greenhouse gas emissions by 9%!

Holiday locally. I bet there is a lot of your local region you haven’t explored yet!

Consume consciously: Buy 20% more local, in season, organic or non-toxic products.

While the use of some products reduce your ecological footprint (e.g. bicycle in place of car, compact fluorescent light bulbs)...

...reducing your ecological footprint can only be achieved by reining in consumption.

The single most important contribution any of us
can make to the planet is a return to frugality.

...Robert Muller, retired Assistant Secretary-General of the UN