is a measurement for sustainability and unsustainability based on consumption
of resources on goods and activities made by humans. It is a relevant
measurement in sustainability since its balance depends on natural resources which
is crucial for humanity (Moore, 2011). Footprint analysis
can be done on different scales: individual, regional, national and global,
depending which areas are considered in the analysis. If the footprint exceeds biocapacity at the
global scale, it means that people are using more than can be regenerated (Moore, 2011). According to the Figure 1, it appears that the
lifestyle of people in Western countries causes a larger footprint (more than 5
hectares per capita) than the developing countries, whose footprint is mostly
less than 2 hectares per capita; for comparing, the
world average footprint is estimated to be 1.8 hectares per capita. Translating the data, the developed countries
lifestyle can be considered as unsustainable affecting future generations
negatively (Ecological Footprint Network,
In this essay, we review Ecological and Carbon Footprint
analysis and their capability of being relevant sustainability measuring tool. As
well, a study case of Footprint analysis in San Francisco is summarised and given
as an example. Also, improvements for the analysis are suggested based on the readings
and the study case.
Figure 1: Ecological Footprint per capita in the world (Ecological
Footprint Network, 2013).
Scope of application
1.1. Ecological Footprint
Ecological Footprint is an indicator for
ecological-economic analysis (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999). It shows the
ecological impact due to human activities in terms of land area which is
required to afford these activities. Defining the ecological impact, the amount
of raw materials used and carbon dioxide emitted are considered and converted.
The capacity is an estimated amount of land and water required to supply these
resources or store the wastes created (Moore, 2011). The special feature
of the Footprint analysis is that all human activities related to resources and
environment is compact into a single dimension (Moffatt,
Describing more detailed calculation procedure of
Ecological Footprint, it starts with determination of consumption in a
particular spatial domain for each applicable category including food, housing,
transportation, consumer goods and services (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999). Afterwards, the
land area is categorised and appropriated by each determined before consumption
category by fossil energy use, built environment, gardens, crop land,
pasture/grassland and managed forest. The calculation is based on natural resource
and waste flows, which gives a consumption/land-use matrix. Putting together
all the area figures in this matrix gives an approximate calculation of the Ecological
footprint of the particular region (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999). Hectares or global
hectares units are usually used in the Ecological footprint (Wiedmann
& Minx, 2008).
Carbon Footprint is a measure of the total amount of
carbon dioxide emissions produced directly and indirectly by anthropogenic activities
or is accumulated over the life-cycle of a product (Wiedmann & Minx, 2008).
In contrast with the Ecological footprint, Carbon
footprint takes in account a supply chain or the life-cycle of a product, not measuring
area. It analysis eight categories: construction, shelter, food, clothing,
mobility, manufactured products, services, and trade (Hertwich & Peter, 2009).
Activities which cause direct emissions are using car and heating, meantime
indirect occurs during generation of electricity and production of goods and
services (Wiedmann & Minx, 2008). Depending on methodology, Carbon footprint stands
mostly for gaseous emissions that are relevant to climate change and associated
with human production or consumption activities (Wiedmann
& Minx, 2008).
However, there is no general rule which gaseous emissions must be considered
either procedure for quantifying and units for Carbon footprint are not set.
The most appropriate estimation is based on
life-cycle assessment or input-output analysis (Hertwich
& Peter, 2009).
Life-cycle assessment in other words Process analysis (PA) is a bottom-up
method is used to understand the environmental impacts of a particular product
from the first stage till the end of the product. It is used at micro systems
meaning a particular process, an individual product or a relatively small group
of individual products. Environmental Input-Output (EIO) analysis is top-down
method. Input-output tables express all economic activities at the meso level
relying on economic accounts. Combined consistent environmental account data
and economic account data is used to estimate Carbon Footprint in a
comprehensive and robust way taking in account the whole economic system as a
boundary. It is used in macro and meso systems; a Carbon Footprint of industrial
sectors, individual businesses, larger product groups, households, government (Wiedmann & Minx, 2008). Nevertheless, the
most accurate assessment would be the integration of two methodologies (Wiedmann
& Minx, 2008).
Critics against Footprint
analysis as a method for measuring sustainability
analysis has met many critics. First of all, it does not have established
procedures for measuring and quantifying data. Being a reliable result, which
can be contributed in policy making requires scientific calculation procedures
and the indicators must have a clear interpretation and be understandable to
non-scientists (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999). However, conversion
of different consumption categories to land area during Footprint analysis
is usually incompletely and rough, thus cannot provide with decent results.
well, it does not cover the functioning of a system as a whole since it is only
one dimensional. Therefore, the results might contradict with position from
social and economic point of view (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999). It does not
consider marginal changes that fact is relevant in economic sustainable
development and therefore significantly overestimate sustainability of the
scenario. Though carbon sink land is the cheapest sustainable option at the
margin, this scenario leads to many changes in all levels, therefore is far
from a sustainable scenario (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999).
After all, the Ecological Footprint is too much focused on energy use
and consumption, which seems to be an incomplete approach to direct the
attention on environmental problems related to energy use.
The idea behind this is that sustainability is achieved if the carbon
sink is not exceeded, thereby focusing only on the emission and not paying
enough attention on resource scarcity of fossil energy use. It can provoke
finding alternative options for fuel, reducing fuel consumption, increasing
energy efficiency of processes, or other ways to prevent rising concentration
of CO2 in the atmosphere (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999).
indicators of the Footprint analysis do not relate to clear policy objectives.
Indicator should be based on parameter values that are stable over a long
period of time (van den Bergh & Harmen, 1999).
It worth to mention, the
Footprint analysis neglects issues related to unsustainability, notably
acidification, disturbance of ecosystems via infrastructure and noise, emission
of toxic substances to natural systems, and the whole in the ozone layer (van den Bergh
& Harmen, 1999). Another aspect which is overlooked is a
compromise between environmental sustainability and intensive land use. For
instance, in agricultural production, intensive land use is interpreted as a small
contribution to the Ecological Footprint. Anyhow, intensive agriculture is considered
as a high environmental pressure regarding both space and time; prolonged crop
season, use large amount of pesticides and fertilisers, increased productivity (van den Bergh
& Harmen, 1999).
criticism mention before, the Footprint analysis is a universal measuring tool
and it adapts easily for a particular case. Governmental organisation and
policy makers prefer to use the Footprint analysis since it does not require
complicate technical calculations (Moffatt, 2000).
Case study: Footprint analysis in
Global Footprint Network (GFN) and the San
Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) cooperated to explore
the Ecological Footprint of San Francisco in 2010. The goal of the study is to go
deeper in urban sustainability by including all of the ecological impacts due
to consumption of goods and services by the residents. Global Footprint Network
(GFN) is an international non-profit organisation. It puts limits on natural
resources use through policy makers by analysing.
The results of the study show that San Francisco’s
Ecological Footprint is at 7.1 gha per person which is higher about 6% than
average Footprint in United States of America. The high value of Footprint can
be explained with following reasons. The San Francisco MSA has an exceptionally
high average income, thereby consumption is likely to be higher. Additionally,
transportation infrastructure is not well developed as it is in cities such as
New York where footprint is 6.1 gha. This is likely a contributor to the higher
rate of private vehicles which increases consumption of natural resources and
therefore increases Footprint. Overall, more than 400 aspects were taking in
account during the Footprint analysis and the consumption categories were
converted considering five types of land: cropland, forest, grazing land,
marine and inland water and built-up land. In the study, uncertainty of
footprint analysis was considered, and list of suggestions for improvement of
the result was made. According to the list, investigating the areas together
reduced quality of the analysis and made it difficult in making decision
related to reduction of Footprint per capita.
Footprint analysis is becoming more used
tool for measuring sustainability. The results are easily interpreted for
public and can be understood by non-scientists. Thereby, policymakers of
different fields are able to get information from the analysis and use it in
policies to integrate sustainability into society in individual, regional, national
and global level. Today, there is a lot of discussion if Footprint analysis could
be taken seriously. Though, the Footprint analysis cannot be completely reliable,
but its measurement can be considered as a minimum estimate which can be strengthen
with additional measuring and evidences. Nevertheless, Footprint analysis needs
improvements in efficiency such as taking in account costs, prices, behaviour,
sectoral interactions, dynamic effects like technological change in the fields of
energy use and conservation. With the mentioned upgrades and economic mechanisms,
use of the Footprint Analysis is more realistic, economically feasible and