Worries about global warming, contaminated air and water, and overflowing landfills have encouraged many people to become more aware of how much of the Earth's resources they are using. Several organizations have come up with ways for people to understand how much they're consuming so that they can make responsible decisions. The ecological footprint is one of those measurements.
Your ecological footprint represents the amount of the Earth's resources and productive spaces needed to support your everyday life. Your ecological footprint combines your housing footprint, carbon footprint, food footprint, and goods and services footprint into one number that's measured in global hectares or global acres. That number tells you how much of the Earth's surface you use to sustain your life.
According to Facing the Future, an education resource designed to help teach students about resources and ecological issues, your ecological footprint is composed of several different components. It includes the number of trees needed to provide for your oxygen use; the land and animal resources needed to provide your food; the water that you use for drinking, washing and other activities; the timber and fiber needed to make your furniture, clothes and other goods; the energy you use in the form of gas, electricity and other energy sources; the highways, hospitals, water systems and other constructions that make up your infrastructure; the garbage you produce; and the land you use for recreation.
Your ecological footprint matters because every person has one. And as the world population increases--it's already more than 6 billion people--so does the amount of resources needed to sustain it. According to the Center for Sustainable Economy, each person should use 15.71 global hectares in order to sustain the Earth's resources, including clean air and water. Right now, the average person's global footprint is 23.7 global hectares, nearly twice as much as the Earth's maximum sustainable resource level, according to the Center for Sustainable Economy.
According to Philip Camill, member of the department of biology at Carleton College, in an article published on the University at Buffalo's National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, living in a city significantly increases your global footprint because cities are not self-sustainable--they rely on the rest of the globe to sustain them. Camill says ecological footprints started to exceed the Earth's resources as early as the 1980s, and Americans are likely to have larger ecological footprints than people in other countries.
According to Facing the Future, there are several fairly simple things you can do to quickly reduce your ecological footprint, and understanding the size of your ecological footprint is the first step. When you shop, buy sustainable or environmentally friendly products if you can't buy used. Use methods of transportation that don't require gas, like biking or walking. Participate in recycling programs to reduce your waste.