Resource 4: Ecological footprint

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Access the website below to take part in the ecological footprint quiz. This is displayed in many different languages. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Accessed 2008)


The ecological footprint is a tool that measures how much land and water area a human population needs to produce the resources it uses and to absorb its waste.

In order to live, we consume what nature offers. Every action has an impact on the Earth's ecosystems. This is of little concern as long as human use of resources does not exceed what the Earth can renew. But are we taking more?

Today, humanity's ecological footprint is over 23% larger than what the Earth can regenerate. In other words, it now takes more than one year and two months for the Earth to renew what we use in a single year. We are surviving by using up the Earth’s resource stores. We are both using up non-renewable resources such as minerals, ores and petroleum but also renewable resources such as fish stocks, animals, forests and groundwater – we are using these up faster than the Earth can resupply them. We depend on these ecological assets to survive. Livelihoods disappear, resource conflicts happen, land becomes barren and resources become increasingly costly or unavailable. This is made worse by the growth in human population, as well as by changing lifestyles that place more demand on natural resources.

By measuring the ecological footprint of a population (an individual, a city, a nation, or all of humanity) we can assess how much of the planet we are using, which helps us manage our resources more carefully. Ecological footprints enable people to take personal and collective action so that we live within what the Earth can regenerate.

The challenge and the goal: sustainability

Sustainability is a simple idea. It is based on the fact that when resources are used faster than they are produced or renewed, the resource is depleted (reduced in number) and eventually used up.

In a sustainable world, people’s demand on nature is in balance with nature's capacity to meet that demand.

Calculate your ecological footprint

Answer the following questions to see how big your ecological footprint is. Add up your points, indicated at the end of each question (for example [2]) to see if you are making a HIGH, medium or low impact on the environment around you. Remember, the smaller the footprint, the better!

1. How much of the food that you eat is processed, packaged and from far away?

a) Most of the food I eat is packaged and from far away. [3]

b) About half the food I eat is packaged. [2]

c) Very little. Most of the food I eat is unprocessed, unpackaged and locally grown. [1]

2. What is the size of your home?

a) 30 sq m or smaller [1]     similar size to a large truck

b) 90–130 sq m [2]              similar size to half a football pitch

c) 200 sq m or larger [3]      similar size to a full football pitch

3. Do you bicycle, walk, or use animal power to get around?

a) Most of the time [1]

b) Sometimes [2]

c) Rarely [3]

4. On average, how far do you travel on public transportation each week (bus, train, ferry, shared taxi)?

a) 25–100 km per week [3]

b) 20 km per week [2]

c) 0 km per week [1]

5. On average, how far do you go by car each week (as a driver or passenger)?

a) 0 km per week [1]

b) 250–500 km per week [2]

c) 700 km or more per week [3]

6. Compared to people in your neighbourhood, how much waste do you generate?

a) About the same [2]

b) Much less [1]

c) Much more [3]

Now add up your points and refer to the table below.

If you scored between 0–6 points, you currently have a low impact ecological footprint. Well done! See if you can improve your score by using some of the ideas below. If you scored between 7–12 points, you currently have a medium impact ecological footprint. See if you can improve your score by using some of the ideas below. If you scored between 13–18 points, you currently have a HIGH IMPACT ecological footprint. See if you can improve your score by using some of the ideas below.
Set up a group in your area to discuss issues and raise awareness about the impact humans have on the environment.
  • See if you can eat more locally produced foods to cut down on fuel used to transport products.
  • See if you can walk or use public transport, rather than travelling by car.
  • Try to walk or use public transport instead of travelling by car.
  • Try to cut down on the number of packed or transported foods that you eat.
  • See if you can reuse and recycle any waste materials that your household produces.

Resource 3: Making compost

Resource 5: Lesson plan: Finding the best waste material ball