Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 24: Ecological Footprint accounts

Mathis Wackernagel, Gemma Cranston, Juan Carlos Morales and Alessandro Galli


This chapter documents and discusses the role of Ecological Footprint accounting. It covers what the accounts attempt to do, explains the role of such accounts in sustainability and economic assessments, how the robustness and rigour of the accounts are being improved, and what the answers are to common issues raised about the Footprint in the scientific and policy literature. Ecological Footprint accounting is driven by one key question: How much of the biosphere’s (or any region’s) regenerative capacity does any human activity demand? Or more specifically: How much of the planet’s (or a region’s) regenerative capacity does a defined activity – such as supporting the consumption metabolism of a particular population – demand to provide all the ecosystem services that are competing for mutually exclusive space? These services include provision of all the resources that the population consumes and absorption of all that population’s waste, using prevailing technology and management practice (Wackernagel, 1991; Rees and Wackernagel, 1994; Wackernagel and Rees, 1996; Wackernagel et al., 2002). Accounts typically have two sides. For example, financial ‘profit and loss’ statements track both ‘expenditure’ and ‘income’, or balance sheet document ‘assets’ and ‘liabilities’. Similarly, Footprint accounts compare demand on biocapacity (Footprint) against availability of biocapacity.

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