The Ecological Footprint: an Indicator of Progress Toward Regional Sustainability
- Cite this article as:
- Wackernagel, M. & Yount, J.D. Environ Monit Assess (1998) 51: 511. doi:10.1023/A:1006094904277
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We define regional sustainability as the continuous support of human quality of life within a region's ecological carrying capacity. To achieve regional sustainability, one must first assess the current situation. That is, indicators of status and progress are required. The ecological footprint is an area-based indicator which quantifies the intensity of human resource use and waste discharge activity in relation to a region's ecological carrying capacity. If the ecological footprint of a human population is greater than the area which it occupies, the population must be doing at least one of the following: receiving resources from elsewhere, disposing of some of its waste outside of the area, or depleting the area's natural capital stocks. To achieve global sustainability, the sum of all regional footprints must not exceed the total area of the biosphere. This paper explains the mechanics of a footprint calculation method for nations and regions. As the method is standardized, the relative ecological load imposed by nations and regions can be compared. Further, a nation's or region's consumption can be contrasted with its local ecological production, providing an indicator of potential vulnerability and contribution to ecological decline.