Why does the Footprint need Standards?

A growing number of government agencies, organizations and communities are adopting the Ecological Footprint as a core indicator of sustainable resource use.

As the number of Ecological Footprint practitioners around the world increases, different approaches to conducting Footprint studies could lead to fragmentation and divergence of the methodology. This would reduce the ability of the Footprint to produce consistent and comparable assessments across applications and could generate confusion.

The value of the Footprint as a trusted sustainability metric therefore depends not only on the scientific integrity of the methodology, but also on consistent and transparent presentation of results across analyses. It also depends on communicating results of analyses in a manner that does not distort or misrepresent findings.

To meet these goals, Global Footprint Network initiated a consensus, committee-based process for the development of standards governing Footprint applications, and for an ongoing scientific review of the methodology. Ensuring that Footprint results are both credible and consistent will encourage even more widespread adoption of the Ecological Footprint, increasing its effectiveness as a catalyst for a sustainable future.

Application Standards

The Ecological Footprint Standards 2009 are the current operational standards that we use with all of our partners and businesses, including our 2015 Edition of the National Footprint Accounts. The 2009 Standards build on the first set of internationally recognized Ecological Footprint Standards, released in 2006, and include key updates – such as, for the first time, providing standards and guidelines for product and organizational Footprint assessments.

The Ecological Footprint Standards 2009 are designed to ensure that Footprint assessments are produced consistently and according to community-proposed best practices. They aim to ensure that assessments are conducted and communicated in a way that is accurate and transparent, by providing standards and guidelines on such issues as use of source data, derivation of conversion factors, establishment of study boundaries, and communication of findings. The Standards are applicable to all Footprint studies, including sub-national populations, products, and organizations.

The Standards have been developed through a consensus, committee-based process by a Standards Committee drawn from representatives of academia, government, NGOs, and consulting firms. As a Community Affiliate of the ISEAL Alliance, Global Footprint Network developed a standard-setting process aimed to comply with the ISEAL Standard-Setting Code of Ethics and Good Practice. The Standards Committee works with Global Footprint Network staff to establish the standards, which are then submitted for extensive public comment. The Ecological Footprint Standards 2009 represent the result of months of discussion, consensus-building and review by stakeholders and Footprint practitioners.

In order to promote the quality and integrity of Ecological Footprint Accounting, Global Footprint Network asks that all Partners comply with the most recent Ecological Footprint Standards.

Methodological Resources

Calculation Methodology for the National Footprint Accounts, 2011 Edition describes the fundamental calculations and principles utilized in the 2011 edition of the National Footprint Accounts. It provides researchers and practitioners with information to deepen their understanding of the calculation methodology for the Ecological Footprint. It also includes calculation methodology for biocapacity, yield factors, equivalence factors, and the specific land use types included in the Ecological Footprint: cropland, grazing land, fishing ground, forest land, carbon uptake land, and built-up land.

The calculation methodology for the National Footprint Accounts 2011 edition has been published in the Ecological Indicators Journal (Vol. 24: pages 518-533), and a final draft can be downloaded here.

Data Sources

The calculations in the National Footprint Accounts are primarily based on international data sets published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database and other data from the UN Statistics Division, the International Energy Agency, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Other data sources include studies in peer-reviewed science journals and thematic collections. Of the more than 230 countries, territories, and regions analyzed in the National Footprint Accounts, 150 had populations over one million and were covered consistently by the United Nations statistical system.