Biological capacity or biocapacity:  The capacity of ecosystems to regenerate what people demand from those surfaces. Life, including human life, competes for space. The biocapacity of a particular surface represents its ability to renew what people demand. Biocapacity is therefore the ecosystems’ capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans, under current management schemes and extraction technologies. Biocapacity can change from year to year due to climate, management, and also what portions are considered useful inputs to the human economy. In the National Footprint Accounts, the biocapacity of an area is calculated by multiplying the actual physical area by the yield factor and the appropriate equivalence factor. Biocapacity is usually expressed in global hectares.

Biological capacity available per person (or per capita): There were ~ 12 billion hectares of biologically productive land and water on Earth in 2011. Dividing by the number of people alive in that year (7 billion) gives 1.72 global hectares per person. This area also needs to accommodate the wild species that compete for the same biological material and spaces as humans.

Carbon Footprint: The carbon Footprint measures CO2 emissions associated with fossil fuel use. In Ecological Footprint accounts, these amounts are converted into biologically productive areas necessary for absorbing this CO2. The carbon Footprint is added to the Ecological Footprint because it is a competing use of bioproductive space, since increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere is considered to represent a build-up of ecological debt. Some carbon Footprint assessments express results in tonnes released per year, without translating this amount into area needed to sequester them.

Consumption: Use of goods or of services. The term consumption has two different meanings, depending on context. As commonly used in regard to the Footprint, it refers to the use of goods or services. A consumed good or service embodies all the resources, including energy, necessary to provide it to the consumer. In full life-cycle accounting, everything used along the production chain is taken into account, including any losses along the way. For example, consumed food includes not only the plant or animal matter people eat or waste in the household, but also that lost during processing or harvest, as well as all the energy used to grow, harvest, process and transport the food.

As used in Input-Output analysis, consumption has a strict technical meaning. Two types of consumption are distinguished: intermediate and final. According to (economic) System of National Accounts terminology, intermediate consumption refers to the use of goods and services by a business in providing goods and services to other businesses. Final consumption refers to non-productive use of goods and services by households, the government, the capital sector, and foreign entities.

Consumption Footprint: See Ecological Footprint of Consumption.

Consumption Land Use Matrix: Starting with data from the National Footprint Accounts, a Consumption Land Use Matrix allocates the six major Footprint land uses (shown in column headings) allocated to the five basic consumption components (row headings). For additional resolution, each consumption component can be disaggregated further. These matrices are often used as a starting point for sub-national (e.g. state, county, city) Footprint assessments. In this case, national data for each cell is scaled up or down depending on the unique consumption patterns in that sub-national region compared to the national average.

Consumption Land Use Matrix

Ecological deficit / reserve (or biocapacity reserve / deficit): The difference between the biocapacity and Ecological Footprint of a region or country. An ecological deficit occurs when the Footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population. Conversely, an ecological reserve exists when the biocapacity of a region exceeds its population’s Footprint. If there is a regional or national ecological deficit, it means that the region is importing biocapacity through trade or liquidating regional ecological assets, or emitting wastes into a global commons such as the atmosphere. In contrast to the national scale, the global ecological deficit cannot be compensated for through trade, and is therefore equal to overshoot by definition.

Ecological Footprint: A measure of how much area of biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and resource management practices. The Ecological Footprint is usually measured in global hectares. Because trade is global, an individual or country’s Footprint includes land or sea from all over the world. Without further specification, Ecological Footprint generally refers to the Ecological Footprint of consumption. Ecological Footprint is often referred to in short form as Footprint. “Ecological Footprint” and “Footprint” are proper nouns and thus should always be capitalized.

Ecological Footprint of consumption (EFC): The most commonly reported type of Ecological Footprint, it is defined as the area used to support a defined population’s consumption. The consumption Footprint (in gha) includes the area needed to produce the materials consumed and the area needed to absorb the carbon dioxide emissions. The consumption Footprint of a nation is calculated in the National Footprint Accounts as a nation’s primary production Footprint plus the Footprint of imports minus the Footprint of exports, and is thus, strictly speaking, a Footprint of apparent consumption. The national average or per capita Consumption Footprint is equal to a country’s Consumption Footprint divided by its population.

Ecological Footprint of production (EFP): In contrast to the consumption Footprint, a nation’s production Footprint is the sum of the Footprints for all of the resources harvested and all of the waste generated within the defined geographical region. This includes all the area within a country necessary for supporting the actual harvest of primary products (cropland, pasture land, forestland and fishing grounds), the country’s built-up area (roads, factories, cities), and the area needed to absorb all fossil fuel carbon emissions generated within the country. In other words, the forest Footprint represents the area necessary to regenerate all the timber harvested (hence, depending on harvest rates, this area can be bigger or smaller than the forest area that exists within the country). Or, for example, if a country grows cotton for export, the ecological resources required are not included in that country’s consumption Footprint; rather, they are included in the consumption Footprint of the country that imports the t-shirts. However, these ecological resources are included in the exporting country’s primary production Footprint.

Ecological Footprint of imports (EFI): The Footprint embodied in domestically consumed products which are imported from other countries.

Ecological Footprint of exports (EFE): The Footprint embodied in domestically produced products which are exported and consumed in another country.

Ecological Footprint Standards: Specified criteria governing methods, data sources and reporting to be used in Footprint studies. Standards are established by the Global Footprint Network Standards Committee, composed of scientists and Footprint practitioners from around the world. Standards serve to produce transparent, reliable and mutually comparable results in studies done throughout the Footprint Community. Where Standards are not appropriate, Footprint Guidelines should be consulted. For more information, consult

Equivalence factor: A productivity- based scaling factor that converts a specific land type (such as cropland or forest) into a universal unit of biologically productive area, a global hectare. For land types (e.g., cropland) with productivity higher than the average productivity of all biologically productive land and water area on Earth, the equivalence factor is greater than 1. Thus, to convert an average hectare of cropland to global hectares, it is multiplied by the cropland equivalence factor of 2.51. Grazing lands, which have lower productivity than cropland, have an equivalence factor of 0.46 (see also yield factor). In a given year, equivalence factors are the same for all countries.

Global hectare (gha): Global hectares are the accounting unit for Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounts. These productivity weighted biologically productive hectares allow researchers to report both the biocapacity of the earth or a region, and the demand on biocapacity (the Ecological Footprint). A global hectare is a biologically productive hectare with world average biological productivity for a given year. Global hectares are needed because different land types have different productivity. A global hectare of, for example, cropland, would occupy a smaller physical area than the much less biologically productive pasture land, as more pasture would be needed to provide the same biocapacity as one hectare of cropland. Because world bioproductivity varies slightly from year to year, the value of a gha may change slightly from year to year.

IO (Input-Output) analysis: Input-Output (IO, also I-O) analysis is a mathematical tool widely used in economics to analyze the flows of goods and services between sectors in an economy, using data from IO tables. IO analysis assumes that everything produced by one industry is consumed either by other industries or by final consumers, and that these consumption flows can be tracked. If the relevant data are available, IO analyses can be used to track both physical and financial flows. Combined economic-environment models use IO analysis to trace the direct and indirect environmental impacts of industrial activities along production chains, or to assign these impacts to final demand categories. In Footprint studies, IO analysis can be used to apportion Footprints among production activities, or among categories of final demand, as well as in developing Consumption Land Use Matrices.

Land or area type: The Earth’s approximately 12 billion hectares of biologically productive land and water areas are categorized into five types: cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing ground, and built-up land. Forest land serves two distinct, competing uses: Forest products and CO2 sequestration.

National Footprint Accounts (NFAs): The central data set that calculates the Footprint and biocapacity of the world and more than 200 nations from 1961 to the present (generally with a three year lag due to data availability). The ongoing development, maintenance and upgrades of the National Footprint Accounts are coordinated by Global Footprint Network and its partners.

Yield factor: A factor that accounts for differences between countries in productivity of a given land type. Each country and each year has yield factors for cropland, grazing land, forest, and fisheries. For example, in 2008, German cropland was 2.21 times more productive than world average cropland. (The German cropland yield factor of 2.21, multiplied by the cropland equivalence factor of 2.51 converts German cropland hectares into global hectares: one hectare of cropland is equal to 5.6 gha.