MEOPAR Blog: How much do we consume?

Reducing our footprint is crucial for ensure the sustainability of our world.

Have you ever considered how much you consume? The amount that we consume is known as theecological footprint (EF). It is a value that was developed in 1990 by two researchers, Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. It is an effective tool to estimate our current individual environmental impact on the planet and which factors contribute to it, such as the energy required to operate homes, electronics, clothes, food, magazines, restaurants, travel, and more.

The ecological footprint is calculated by determining and then comparing the cycle of supply (what we already have) and demand (what we want).  The tool first measures the resources that are already produced in our ecosystem and how much waste the planet can absorb. What is naturally produced is classified into a few categories: food and fiber, livestock and fish, timber and other forest products, energy, and space for urban infrastructure. The tool then compares what we effectively use as an individual, a population or a country.

Currently, the planet cannot keep up with the demands we are placing on it. In fact, the planet needs one year and eight months to produce the resources that we are currently using and then absorb what we waste. That cycle may even become longer in the future, with estimates that it may take two years for the planet to replenish its resources and absorb the waste necessary to keep up with our increasing demand by 2050! It’s clear this is not sustainable.

The ecological footprint also varies widely from country to country. The computation of the EF indicator incorporates all the inputs (resources) and transforms them into one parameter called ‘global hectare (gha)’. One global hectare (gha) is equivalent to one hectare of bio-productive land with world average productivity. In 2014, each Canadian required roughly 8.26 global hactares (gha) to meet the country’s demand, i.e. the amount of land to grow the food or materials extracted from various places in the world to produce the resources we need. Comparatively, people in the African countries of Cameroon and Burundi needed only 1.66 gha and 0.66 gha, respectively. If every country had similar consumption patterns as Canada, we would need the equivalent of five planets to keep up with the demand!

With that in mind, it is important to consider your own ecological footprint and how your actions can help decrease the unsustainable demand on our planet. You can start by calculating your own EF here, and then use these data to think about different ways you can reduce this EF. This may include reducing resource consumption (saving water, saving electricity), making diet changes (buying local foods, eating less meat), using sustainable transportation modes (biking, busing) and efficiently managing waste (recycling, composting). You can start any time, and in very simple ways —and every little step helps.

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at or email us at


Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair