One of the currently most important parameters to assess the environmental impact of an activity is the ecological footprint. It is a parameter that has been used for relatively few years and that, little by little, is consolidating both in the academic world and among the general population. This concept arose trying to have a measure that, like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), can inform us about the environmental impact of a specific activity.
What is the ecological footprint?
The ecological footprint allows us to assess the impact that a specific activity has on our environment compared to the capacity of the environment and thus be able to define whether an activity is sustainable or not. For this, an ecologically productive area of land is taken, such as a crop, pasture, forests or any ecosystem, which would be necessary to produce all the resources sought and to assimilate the waste generated by that activity over time.
It also takes into account energy issues, for example in a forest the number of hectares that are needed to assume the CO2 produced by the energy consumption of this activity are determined. In addition, the type of energy used is taken into account, if, for example, renewable energies are used (wind, solar, …), the ecological footprint will be less than using other energy sources.
Currently, more resources are consumed and more waste is produced than the planet’s biocapacity to assimilate them, so measures must be taken to reduce this ecological footprint.
The main objective is to know if a certain area of the planet can withstand a specific production process and assimilate the waste it generates over time, without causing damage to the environment. One of the advantages of the ecological footprint is that it sometimes makes it possible to obtain specific indicators and make comparisons between them and with other means, which is very important to assess environmental damage.
Without realizing it, in our daily life we carry out a multitude of activities, such as buying products or services, traveling by plane or car or consuming energy that has an impact on our environment and that environment must assimilate that impact. That is why the ecological footprint is so important, because our environment is not infinite, and one day it may be damaged.
When determining the ecological footprint we must take into account some factors such as:
- Population growth.
- The fertile soil surface.
- The depletion of resources.
- Increased consumption.
The ecological footprint is calculated as follows :
- The size of the study is calculated: if the ecological footprint of an individual, a family, a city or a country is to be studied.
- It is calculated how much energy, food, raw materials and land that population will consume in the activity carried out. The land area is difficult to calculate, so standardized tables are used.
- All the surfaces are added and the result is divided by the total of the selected population.
When conducting the analysis, it is seen that the inhabitants of certain countries have more surface area to carry out their activities. That corresponds to countries with a smaller ecological footprint and to future generations. This is because they are appropriating land outside their territory or that belongs to future generations.
The reality of the analyzes is that the total ecological footprint of the planet exceeds its assimilation capacity by 30% . This warns us of the accelerated rate of consumption of resources and their distribution, so it is necessary to take measures to reduce it.
According to the analyzes, the ecological footprint in Spain exceeds its biocapacity by 2.6% . This means that to maintain our standard of living and the current population, we would need about three Spains. The analyzes also show that in about fifteen years, our ecological deficit increased by 50% and the trend continues to increase.
In Spain, for example, each person consumes the equivalent of 3.8 hectares when the carrying capacity of our territory is 1.4. In other words, there is a deficit of 2.4 hectares or each one borrows 24,000 m 2 of land from other countries.