The Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) concept was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees in 1996 to represent the natural resource consumption associated with human activity (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996). The ecological footprint is defined as the total area of biologically productive land and water required by an entity to sustain its current consumption levels. The result is an area, usually given in hectares. Ecological Footprint analysis has been applied to countries, businesses, individuals, and educational institutions.
EFA helps generate awareness of the magnitude of consumption. The average Canadian footprint is 7.8 ha per capita (Onisto, 1998). That is, the typical Canadian consumes about eight hectares of the world's resources (as if all of the world's resources were spread evenly over the earth--they are not) every year. As a citizen of this planet, each person has a "fair share" of about two hectares of earth (Onisto, 1998). Compare the two figures, and you'll see that if everyone in the world were to live as Canadians do, the resources of four planet earths would be required to sustain us.
The strength of the EFA is that it communicates degrees and patterns of consumption simply and clearly (Moffat, 2000). In addition to serving as an effective awareness tool, the EFA can also guide us toward sustainability through a change of practice or policy. But the EFA has its limitations. It is a static measurement, representing the consumption of an entity at one particular point in time. More importantly, the only way to reduce the size of a footprint is to acquire more land, decrease the population, or more realistically and appropriately, reduce the amount of goods and services that each person consumes. Overall, the EFA is a conservative measure of resource consumption since any practice considered by its nature not sustainable (e.g., toxic waste production and assimilation) is not included in its calculations, despite its detrimental effect on natural resources.
Why is an EFA an effective method for a school--particularly, a university--to measure its sustainability? UTM, like many universities in Ontario, is expanding rapidly to accommodate more students. As a part of its growth plan and commitment to the parkland this campus stands upon, UTM decided to use Ecological Footprint Analysis to track its resource consumption during this rapid period of growth. The first EFA at UTM was conducted in the summer of 2004 to initially identify patterns and degrees of consumption; analysis of the resulting data to determine appropriate action; and ultimately to assess whether the EFA could effectively benchmark the consumption of UTM as it grows. The report produced from this initial study is available under Progress Reports.
The most important conclusion from the initial analysis was that UTM required a custom EFA calculator to assess its consumption over time, as opposed to the ready-made online calculators that were used in this initial study. Ready-made calculators function as a "black box" and thus offer far less credibility and instruction to improve.
The result of work conducted in the summer of 2005 is a custom EFA calculator produced by Chelsea Stewart and Jennifer Loo. Click on UTM Calculator to download the calculator and user manual, and Progress Reports for the report.
UTM's Ecological Footprint project is currently in its third year. Please see Research for more information.
Moffat, Ian. 2000. Ecological footprints and sustainable development. Ecological Economics 32: 359-362.
Onisto, Lawrence J. et al. 1998. How big is Toronto's ecological footprint? Centre for Sustainable Studies and the City of Toronto, Toronto.
Wackernagel, Mathis & William E. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint. Reducing Human Impact on Earth. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C.