A Review of the Ecological Footprint Indicator—Perceptions and Methods

[tweetmeme http://www.URL.com%5D Thomas Wiedmann and John Barrett of the Centre for Sustainability Accounting, Innovation Centre (NY, USA) have published a new paper titled “A Review of the Ecological Footprint Indicator—Perceptions and Methods.” In this paper they present a comprehensive review of perceptions and methods around the Ecological Footprint (EF), based on a survey of more than 50 international EF stakeholders and a review of more than 150 original papers on EF methods and applications over the last decade. The key points identified in the survey are that the EF (a) is seen as a strong communication tool, (b) has a limited role within a policy context, (c) is limited in scope, (d) should be closer aligned to the UN System of Environmental and Economic Accounting and (e) is most useful as part of a basket of indicators. Key issues from the review of methods are: (a) none of the major methods identified can address all relevant issues and questions at once, (b) basing bioproductivity calculations on Net Primary Production (NPP) is a promising approach, (c) advances in linking bioproductivity with ecosystem services and biodiversity have been made by the Dynamic EF concept and the HANPP indicator, (d) environmentally extended input-output analysis (IOA) provides a number of advantages for improving EF calculations and (e) further variations such as the emergy-based concept or the inclusion of further pollutants are not regarded as providing a fundamental shift to the usefulness of EF for policy making. They also discuss the implications of our findings for the use of the EF as a headline indicator for sustainability decision-making.

The introduction to this paper reads:

The Ecological Footprint (EF) is an indicator that accounts for human demand on global biological resources. It compares the level of consumption with the available amount of bioproductive land and sea area and has been designed to show a possible exceedance of this ―sustainability threshold.  Originally developed as an indicator of the environmental impacts of nations, individuals or human populations, the EF is increasingly being tried as an indicator of organizational and corporate environmental performance, or even as an indicator of the ―sustainability of products.

There are doubts about this extension of use and the general relevance for policy-making (the most recent discussions, with mixed conclusions, are in [1] and [2]; see also [3] and [4]). What‘s more, it is clear that there are a number of EF approaches now available, differing in the underlying methodology and the extent to which they address relevant issues that have not been or cannot be dealt with by the standard method described by the Global Footprint Network (GFN).

In this paper we present the results of an expert survey on the perception of the usefulness of the Ecological Footprint as an indicator for sustainability. This is accompanied by a review of all pertinent EF approaches to date and their assessment in the light of the findings from the survey. The objective was to identify and assess existing methods for calculating the Ecological Footprint in terms of robustness and usefulness for (political) decision-making. On the basis of this assessment we draw conclusions as to which methods should be used, developed or combined to yield highest policy relevance.

Both the survey and review address fundamental and critical questions, for example: What exactly do the various Ecological Footprint methods measure? Which environmental/ecological impacts do they include or exclude? How relevant and how robust is the Ecological Footprint for policies and what is desirable from a policy-making point of view?

In the following Section 2.1 we present the key results from the expert survey. The full list of questions and more details on the answers is provided in Appendix A1. In Section 2.2 we present the main results from the literature review of EF methodologies; again, full details are provided in Appendix A2. In Section 3 we discuss the findings and we draw conclusions in Section 4.

Read the full publication by clicking here.

Citation: Wiedmann, T.;Barrett, J. A Review of the Ecological Footprint Indicator—Perceptions and Methods. Sustainability 2010, 2, 1645-1693.


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