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Carbon Footprint And Water Footprint Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 4236 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The paper is written on Ecological Footprint and its two subsets: Carbon Footprint and Water Footprint. These different Footprints are accounting tools which are used to measure the impact of resource consumption on the environment. The tool helps in signifying that how deep human beings have penetrated to disturb the ecological balance. Ecological Footprint is a progress indicator which is used to achieve environmental sustainability. The paper starts with a small introduction on Ecological Footprint and is then followed by the relationship between Biocapacity (BC) and Ecological Footprint (EF). BC and EF share a supply and demand relationship.

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The BC and EF relationship is very important because it helps the analyst to determine a nation’s or regions natural capital and resource consumption in that bioproductive area. If the biocapacity of a bioproductive area is sufficient to satisfy the Ecological Footprint then its stated that the area has reserve resources. If the Biocapacity is not sufficient to fulfil the Ecological demand then there is deficit of resource. In this case, the nation or the region has to trade with others for natural resources. The deficit of resources states that the consumption rate is very fast than the Earth’s renewal rate.

Carbon Footprint is another tool which is used to measure an individual’s contribution towards green house gas emission (GHG).Carbon Footprint calculator helps an individual to find out his carbon footprint value. Higher the carbon Footprint the more contribution an individual is making towards Global Warming. Water Footprint is also a subset of Ecological Footprint and is a novel concept. Water Footprint is an accounting tool which helps in determining the volume of fresh water consumed by an individual, group or city.

The paper suggests few ways by which Carbon and water Footprint can be reduced. The only purpose for reducing the footprint value is to progress towards sustainability and to gift a sufficient and liveable Earth to our future coming generations.


The Ecological Footprint is the measure to determine the extent to which human beings consume nature’s resources to the amount that can be regenerated by the earth. The Ecological Footprint (EF) is basically a young accounting tool for renewable resources that is used for determining the issues associated with sustainable consumption. Ecological Footprint represents the human demands for nature’s resources and how much bioproductive land and sea area is required to regenerate those resources to fulfil human demands under prevailing technology. The tool helps in determining how many Earths’ are required to support the current humanity practices and consumption. In 2006, it was stated by UN that the Humanity’s Total Ecological Footprint was approximately 1.4 planet Earths; this estimate signifies that to humans consumes resources 1.4 times faster than the Earth to renew them. It takes nearly three years for UN to collect all the data from all the nations to estimate Humanity’s total Ecological Footprint.

The Ecological Footprint tool is usually used in conjunction with Biocapacity (BC) and is expressed as EF/BC. Biocapacity refers to capacity of the area to provide natural resources and to accept or absorb waste. When the Ecological Footprint exceeds the Biocapacity mark it leads to un-sustainability. Thus the mathematical difference between EF and BC can be positive or negative, where positive means deficit and negative means surplus. The concept of EF/BC is a good analytical tool for creating awareness about resource consumption, depletion and regeneration. This tool is also very important for making the people realize the ability of Earth to regenerate consumed resources and to absorb the waste materials in a limited time frame.

The Ecological Footprint value that is calculated at the end for assessment are categorized for goods, services, carbon emission, water usage, housing area, land used for work or any other purpose and also the number of earths that will be required to meet the world’s population and their levels of consumption. Ecological footprint is measured in terms of global hectares (gha). This accounting measure is very much similar to the life cycle analysis where the energy and resource consumption are converted into a normalized value which is the measure of land called the global hectares.


The concept of Ecological Footprint was first published in 1992 by William Rees. The concept was deeply explored by Mathis Wackernagel under Mr. Rees supervision at University of British Columbia in Canada from 1990-94. Originally the concept was named as “Appropriate Carrying Capacity” but was later changed to “Ecological Footprint” after getting inspired by a computer technician who appreciated the look of his new computer as a “small footprint on the desk”. A book was published in 1996 by Rees and Wackernagel called Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.


Ecological Footprint is an accounting tool which is used to measure the consumption of Earth’s resources by individuals, territory, states, nations and world to their corresponding capacity of Earth to regenerate those resources and absorb the wastes. The tool can be used for:

Analysing the lifestyle of the people and their daily resource consumption.

Examining the extent to which a nation is utilising its biocapacity and then comparing the results with that of the other nations.

Educating the people to make them realize about the biocapacity and the over consumption of nature’s resources with an idea to change their personal habits and resource utilization.

Determining the actions and current lifestyles of the people and the nation which are not sustainable.

Motivating the Multinational Companies to compute their own Ecological Footprint and take required measures to reduce the computed value. This can be done by taking initiatives towards environmental sustainability and by formulating corporate social responsibility policies.



The Ecological Footprint (EF) is used to measure how much renewable resources of the biosphere are consumed by human and how fast the Earth is able to renew those resources. The renewable resources include croplands, animal products, wood and timber, fish, etc.

The consumption of resources and the use of built up bioproductive area is measured in terms of global hectares (gha). It is a measure of how much bioproductive land and sea has been used by individuals, territories, states and nations to produce the consumable renewable resources and then to absorb the waste.

The global yield factor by type of consumption is a measure which translates the product into an area that is required to produce that product. The product to be consumed can be crops, timber, fisheries, pasture, etc. The productivity of the product depends upon the time selection, product selection (animal products, crops, fish) and the type of land associated with the products; croplands for crop, dairy farms for animal products, fisheries for fishes.

The equivalence factor translates the land type into global hectares (in gha/ha). This factor determines the world’s average productivity of a given type of productive area to the world’s average productivity of all the areas.

In general there are six ecological bioproductive area:

Crop land: The land used for growing grains, vegetables, fruits and for feeding the livestock. From ecological perspective it is the most productive area.

Pasture: The land that is used for grazing the livestock, to build poultry farms, to produce dairy products like cheese and butter.

Forest: The land that is used for growing trees or natural forest which can in turn yield timber. They serve other ecological purposes also like preventing soil erosion, ecological balance, protecting biodiversity, climate stability and maintaining the hydrological cycles.

Sea, Rivers and Oceans: They maintain the marine life and provide fishing facilities. They also help in maintaining and balancing temperatures, land and sea breeze, capturing the solar energy, etc. The coastal area provides the sea’s ecological production.

Energy land: The land used to sequester carbon dioxide and for accumulating equivalent amount of usable energy.

Built up land: The land that is used by humans for their settlements, building houses, roads and constructing high end infrastructures. It is noticed that human settlement is mostly concentrated in the fertile areas of the region.

It is very important for every individual to calculate their Ecological Footprint to know their stand. Human beings are the only ones responsible for the depletion of natural resources. They have started consuming so many resources and so rapidly that it is not possible for the Earth to cope up with its rate and thus renewal of resources is delayed. Globalization is the current market trend. Everything is turning global, developing countries are utilising this opportunity to gain competitive advantage and to strengthen their economy by investing in infrastructure. To set up a new infrastructure land, money and resources are required where land comes from the reserved forest lands and resources from the surplus quota.

The forest lands are for the animals, it’s their natural habitat. Using the forest land disturbs the biodiversity and thus leads to extinction of many species. Forest lands are also major areas for preventing soil erosion and balancing ecological cycles. The usage of resources should be such that the coming generations can also have access to these resources without compromising. The future generation also have the rights to use natural resources and if the current trend is followed where the rapid resource utilization is taking place then the very soon these resources will deplete and there will be nothing to use.

There are many Ecological Footprint calculators available these days to calculate individuals, nations and world Ecological Footprint. The calculators measure the difference between the Ecological resource usage and the biocapacity which is used to determine per capita resource amount. The next section will explain the EF and BC accounting which is a tool to measure whether the bioproductive area has surplus or deficit resources.


There is a steady rate at which the nature can restore the renewable resources which have been consumed. The idea behind Ecological Footprint is not to get a value for which resources are being used and how much resource consumption is done by an individual, territory, state or nation but instead how fast they being consumed. The current scenario states that the consumption rate is very high in comparison to the renewal rate of Earth.

Ecological Footprint and biocapacity relationship is similar to the Demand-Supply relationship in economics. Ecological Footprint measures the bioproductive area (land or water) required by the population to consume renewable resources under the prevailing technology to produce waste which is to be absorbed. Biocapacity is the capacity of the area to produce renewable resources. Thus, Ecological Footprint is the demand for renewable resources and Biocapacity is the supply of renewable resources. When EF and BC are used together they are either referred to as EF/BC accounting or simply EF accounting. EF accounting is a tool to compare the supply with the demand.

The difference between the EF and BC can either be positive or negative. The positive value refers to deficit of nature’s renewable resources and negative value refers to the surplus/reserve of nature’s renewable resources.

EF-BC =”Positive”….. Deficit

EF-BC =”Negative”….. Surplus

Figure 1

A nation’s ecological deficit can be compensated by getting into trade agreements with other nations who have ecological reserves or by liquefying ecological assets. In case of global ecological deficit there is no compensation available and is thus equal to overshoot. The Ecological footprint can be decreased with:

A small population per a given area

Less consumption of resources per person

High resource efficiency which can be quickly renewed.

It is possible that the demand can exceed the biocapacity mark thereby leading to overshoot. This can occur when:

The trees and crops are harvested faster than they can re-grow.

Depletion in the fisheries before being restocked.

Quick emission of CO2 into the atmosphere making it difficult for the ecosystem to sequester it.

Overshoot is no longer a local phenomena but instead a global phenomena. It is not just that people have started using more resources but have also started invading nature’s principle. Some effects of overshoot are:

Natural capital liquidation

Accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere


Lack of biodiversity

Scarcity of freshwater

Figure 2


The Ecological Footprint can be calculated by individually examining the amount of land used for:

Crop cultivation

Growing timber

Grazing animals and livestock



Building hi-tech infrastructure

Energy production

Electricity usage

An individual’s Ecological Footprint can be calculated by summing all these areas. The natural capital per person can be calculated by taking the total population and then dividing it by the number of hectares of bioproductive land. The current value for individual Ecological Footprint is 4.7 on the planet per person.

The average productivity of different bioproductive area varies from other areas as they depend upon the weather conditions and the way the area is maintained. For example the average productivity of croplands is more than any other land types. Thus the area’s productivity is converted into its corresponding equivalence factor so as to represent it in global hectares. The equivalence factor remains the same for all nations but it varies each year because of relative productivity and the land usage depending upon the environmental factors (weather).

Figure 3

The average bioproductive area per person worldwide was 1.8 approximately in 2006. The World Wide Fund for Nature claims that the human ecological footprint has exceeded the planet’s biocapacity by 20%.

Footprint per capita of:

United States of America- 9.0 gha

Switzerland- 5.6 gha

China- 1.8 gha

The average Ecological Shoe Size for different regions in global hectares can be seen below. North America leads the chart with the highest ecological footprint.

Figure 4

Among the nations United States of America, India and China have the highest Ecological Footprint. While calculating the EF without knowing the population size of that country it cannot be stated what the population or each individual is demanding. Both India and China are highly populated countries but their resource usage is below the world average value. In case of US, the average footprint per person is five times that of the world average.

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Ecological Footprint of individuals residing in developing countries is less than the individuals residing in developed countries. Developed countries use advance technology and have modern infrastructure which require more resources for their working and maintenance thus making its individual Ecological Footprint above 4.7. In case of developing countries the value is low because of less industrialization and usually floats below 4.7.


The Ecological Footprint can be applied to organizations, individuals, territories, cities, states, nations and world as a whole. It helps in planning and to budget the natural capital. Thus the EF can be used in for different applications and it can be ensured that the EF remains as low as possible. This can be done by:

Using resource efficient technologies that require minimal natural capital.

Motivating people to maintain a clean environment by reducing the need of fossil fuel and by making the area pedestrian friendly.

Encourage family planning and reduce family size so that per person consumption of resources is saved.


The Ecological Footprint can be further categorized into:

Carbon Footprint

Water Footprint

Both the types of footprints are briefly taken up in following sections.


The term Carbon Footprint refers to the total bunch of Green House Gases emissions caused by a person, product, community, organization or an activity. The Carbon Footprint is usually measured in terms of amount of carbon dioxide released; it can be either in percentage of carbon dioxide (gas) or in kilograms of carbon (solid particles).

Carbon Footprint is a division of Ecological Footprint and Life Cycle Assessment. A Green House Gas Assessment can be taken up to calculate individuals, organizations and nation’s Carbon Footprint. Once the Carbon Footprint is known various strategies can be devised to reduce it. Few Strategies are:

Adopting Cleaner Technology process

Efficient product and process management

Using green product; which are eco- friendly

Using renewable sources of energy

Procuring and using green raw materials

Adopting waste management practices

Practising Carbon offsetting programmes

Carbon Offsetting is the reduction of Carbon footprint by the mitigation of Carbon Footprints through alternative project development like wind energy, solar energy, and reforestation.


A Carbon Footprint is made up of two parts: Primary footprint and Secondary footprint.

Primary Footprint: Primary Footprint refers to the direct emission of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Direct emission can be by burning of fossil fuels, transportation, factory chimneys, burning of crops for crop rotation, etc.

Secondary Footprint: Secondary Footprint refers to the indirect emission of Carbon Dioxide. Indirect emission refers to getting associated with the product or process which is directly emitting carbon dioxide. Example of Secondary Footprint is buying products wherein during the product lifecycle carbon dioxide emission had taken place. So the more you buy the more you will contribute towards secondary emission.

The following questionnaire can be taken to check how much an individual contributes towards indirect carbon dioxide emission.

Do you eat vegetarian food or non vegetarian food?

Do you buy or grow organic food?

Do you buy local food and goods?

Do you buy new clothes or second hand clothes?

Do you buy new appliances or second hand appliances?

Do you use things that are recyclable?

Do you try to use common vehicle while travelling?

The chart below shows the amount of Carbon dioxide release in to the atmosphere: Primary Footprint

Figure 5


Water Footprint is an accounting tool to measure the total volume of fresh water used for goods and production manufacturing and consumed by individuals, groups or community. Water Footprint is measured in terms of volume consumed or water polluted per unit of time. Water Footprint can be calculated for consumers or producers. Consumers include an individual, community, family, society, village, province or a city. Producers include public or private organizations.

Water Footprint is an indicator which not only measures the volume of water used or polluted but also the regions and locations. Water Footprint is a novel subset of Ecological Footprint and it does not provide any light on contribution of embedded water towards environmental impact or water stress.


Water Footprint consists of 3 components:

Blue Water Footprint: It accounts to the total volume of freshwater that has been used or evaporated from surface or ground water to produce products and services which are consumed by individual, groups or society.

Green Water Footprint: It accounts to the total volume of water evaporated from the soil (moisture content of the soil because of rain water)

Grey Water Footprint: It accounts to the volume of polluted water that is used for the production of goods and services for groups, society or individuals. It also refers to the amount of water required to dilute the pollutants such that the water remains above the acceptable standards for water quality.


Water Footprint for individual consumers refers to the total amount of fresh water consumed either directly or indirectly by the them. Direct consumption is the water used at home for drinking, washing, cleaning and other purposes. Indirect consumption is the total volume of fresh water used for producing goods and other services which are then consumed by the consumers.

The average Water Footprint worldwide is 1240 m3 water/person/year.

Chinese: 700 m3 water/person/year

United States of America: 2480 m3 water/person/year

Finnish: 1730 m3 water/person/year

United Kingdom: 1695 m3 water/person/year


The ‘corporate water footprint’ is the total volume of freshwater that is either directly or indirectly used for carrying out business activities. The Water Footprint for corporate organization consists of two components: the direct use of water by the producer for supporting activities and the indirect use of water during the supply chain process.


Water Footprint of Nations depicts the usage of water for producing the products and services which are to be consumed by the citizen of that nation. This Water Footprint has two components: the Internal Water Footprint and the External Water Footprint.

Internal Water Footprint refers to the requisition of domestic water resources and external Water Footprint refers to requisition of water resources in some other countries. In Japan, 65% of total Water Footprint comes from other country.


Ecological Footprint, Carbon Footprint and Water Footprint are very important accounting tool to measure bioproductive area’s capacity, carbon dioxide emission and the usage of fresh water. The consequence of increased Carbon Footprint means more emission of Green House gases which leads to Global Warming and climatic changes. There have been noticeable changes in the environment and the weather in the past two decades. Human activities has badly hampered the chemical composition of the atmosphere by practising and using products that emit Green House Gases (GHG).

The consequence of GHG accumulation is that the atmosphere blanket will deplete and a blanket of GHG will form around the earth. This will lead to extremely high temperature resulting into melting of icebergs and snow. The sea level will rise tremendously and will destruct everything. The high temperatures may also expand the deserts thereby altering the countryside permanently. The early symptoms are already been seen such as change in the local climate, crop yields, human health, growing number of diseases, and water supplies.

All individuals must take the Carbon Footprint test which is called the Carbon Calculator. The test will help in determining an individual attachment with carbon. Whatever be an individual’s score it is every human being’s responsibility to save the planet and to minimise the release of Green House Gases. At individual level various activities can be taken to reduce an individual’s Carbon Footprint.

At Corporate level the organization must adopt a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Policy to which it will always abide. A corporate must practice and use such products or materials which are eco friendly. The corporate must ensure that all its employees participate in CSR activities and work together towards environmental sustainability. The Corporate must also measure its Water Footprint and must always replenish the water source from where it has taken fresh water for its production of goods and services. Multinational Companies who can afford should build up rain water harvesting plants and sheds for social welfare. The Companies can themselves take initiatives to educate the people and improve the society and set a path towards environmental sustainability.


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