What are the effects of the ecological footprint

The ecological footprint

Two soccer fields for everyone

Let us assume that all people on earth have exactly the same area available on which they have to live. According to calculations from 2003, this would be 1.8 hectares - roughly the same as two large soccer fields.

The African states or all other non-industrialized countries would easily get along with it. Most developed countries, however, do not. Or to put it another way: If all people on earth were to live like us, we would have had to colonize a few other planets long ago.

The new calculation model

The new calculation variable - the "ecological footprint" - is intended to determine how much space a country, a city or a household needs for the current standard of living, but at the same time how much biological capacity a country offers.

In 1994, the scientists Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees developed a concept that can be applied to any country and any person - no matter where in the world.

The ecological footprint includes: the areas required for the production of food, clothing, furniture and other commodities, but also the areas for living, the garbage produced, the provision of energy and the binding of the released carbon dioxide.

The total usable area of ​​the earth and the number of people who live on it is used to calculate how much area each is theoretically entitled to. Since the world population is constantly growing, this area has become smaller and smaller in recent years.

At the same time, the standard of living is rising in many countries and the ecological footprint is growing. The area required worldwide has long since exceeded the available area: 1.8 hectares are available per capita on average, but 2.2 hectares would be needed.

How big is my footprint?

If you want to know whether you are living on a large scale or not, you can use one of the many computers available on the Internet. Depending on the provider, the information that the computer has to be fed with is more general or more detailed - and of course everything remains anonymous.

At the end, the user receives an evaluation - sometimes according to sub-areas (food, traffic, energy), sometimes overall - how his ecological footprint is doing. Some providers such as the "Footprintnetwork" also offer the average value for the country for comparison and reveal how many planets the respective lifestyle would require.

The footprint as an economic factor

If cities have their ecological footprint calculated, then it is basically clear in advance that the balance sheet does not look good in terms of the national average.

Nevertheless, many commission the calculation, for example London, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna. Result for Berlin: The ecological footprint of the German capital corresponds to 168 times the area of ​​the current urban area.

Nevertheless, calculating the footprint makes sense, because the competitiveness of cities also depends on how ecologically efficient they are. The ecological footprint offers a lot of information that is interesting for planning. It reveals where there are deficits, for example in traffic, housing, and energy supply.

Cities can act accordingly, for example by ensuring that the distances to school, the supermarket and the workplace are shortened or by paying attention to efficiency in housing construction.

Berlin, for example, found that the high consumption of fossil energy is a weak point. Vienna decided on an extensive climate protection program for the city and offers its companies an environmental service package.

Through the voluntary measures for efficiency and economy, almost 700 companies have reduced their operating costs considerably and at the same time ensure a better ecological balance.

Project product footprint

What works on a large scale can also be transferred to everyday products such as food, household appliances, personal care products and much more. Consumers who want to shop in an environmentally conscious way are often faced with the question: Am I buying an organic product that has been flown in to Germany or do I forego organic but buy regional goods instead? How important are the transport, packaging and manufacturing of the product?

In mid-2008, four organizations dealing with environmental issues started the PCF (Product Carbon Footprint) pilot project on the ecological footprint of products and services together with ten large, internationally active companies in Berlin.

They determined the carbon footprint (carbon dioxide) of 15 products such as eggs, tetra packs, coffee, toilet paper, glue and a telecommunications service. On the one hand, the pilot project was intended to find a uniform calculation method for the footprint and, on the other hand, to develop a solution for how the information could ultimately be brought to the end user.

The project was completed in mid-2009, with the result, among other things, that disclosure of the ecological footprint within companies leads to increased awareness of climate-relevant issues.

However, it will be a while before consumers can see how big a product's carbon footprint is. Some countries, like Germany with the Blue Angel, already have a label, but this is not as extensive as the product carbon footprint.

At an international congress on this topic in 2009, the question of a Europe-wide uniform labeling was discussed - in accordance with the labeling that already exists for electrical appliances.

However, there have so far been too great differences in the methodology and the desired use of such a label: France would like to label all products, Sweden only those that do best in terms of CO2, and Germany only the most environmentally friendly.


A very effective method of saving CO2 and thus reducing your personal footprint is to refrain from flying. But that doesn't always work - some flights have to be done and quite honestly: Sometimes the sunny south is attractive after all.

If you want to travel with a clear conscience and do something for the environment, you can "neutralize" or "compensate" for the CO2 that you cause with the flight. This works with the help of so-called offsets, also known as compensation payments.

Offsets are offered by many organizations around the world, which in turn use the money to finance environmental projects to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. You can have the amount of the offset payment calculated, for example via the Internet, and also pay directly; some airlines offer the customer direct processing of the offset payment when booking.

The voluntary payments are now made by many air travelers. But be careful: not all offset providers are really serious! If you want to be on the safe side, make sure that the organization has the "Gold Standard" seal of quality before paying. Then you can be sure that the money is in good hands and flows into meaningful projects.