By. Amanda Diep, Communications Manager, Global Footprint Network


Imagine if there was a way to find out how many resources you, your school, city, or country use. At Global Footprint Network, we don’t just imagine it—we dedicate our work to doing just that, in the most accurate way we can.


Back in 2007, we launched the Ecological Footprint Calculator as a tool for individuals to calculate their personal Ecological Footprint, or their demand for natural resources, including their carbon footprint. Since then, the Footprint Calculator has been used 12 million times around the world, becoming a far more popular educational tool than we could have imagined. This past summer, we launched a new beta version of the calculator with many upgrades: it’s mobile friendly; uses our latest data and methodology; and features fresh, updated graphics. (See our blog post for teachers about the launch here.)


Sarah Warner, a high school science teacher in Pennsylvania, uses the Footprint Calculator in her Advanced Placement Environmental Science course at the start of the year. First, she prepares students for the calculator by asking them to think about related sustainability concepts such as the Earth’s carrying capacity and the global tragedy of the commons. After students complete the calculator, they discuss their results, which usually fall between two to six Earths, and see what they can change in the calculator to bring the results to one planet. They tackle several thought-provoking questions, such as how does the average American’s footprint compare to other countries? And what is our role as citizens of the planet to compensate/educate/motivate others to live more sustainably?


“They love the activity. What makes it most useful for us is being able to compare our own data to others—like the average American—to make it relevant,” Warner says.


Creating Responsible Global Citizens

At the end of September, a continent away, nearly 80 students at the Uruguayan American School (UAS) in Montevideo, Uruguay, calculated their personal Ecological Footprints as part of their high school science curriculum. Justin Boreson, founder of the Sustento project and a Global Footprint Network partner, gave a brief presentation to the high school student body explaining the principles behind the Ecological Footprint and the need to live within the physical limits of a single Earth, which ties in well with the school’s mission to “prepare students to be responsible global citizens.” Students volunteered their own ideas for reducing their personal footprints, and upper-class students are diving deeper into Footprint data using the Ecological Footprint Explorer open data platform. Students reflected on the driving factors behind the wide range of personal footprints and Overshoot Dates among their peers.


credit: Global Footprint Network


“The Footprint Calculator enhanced the educational experience from what we are doing in the classroom and our school’s overall mission to develop true global citizens of the world,” said UAS biology teacher Christopher Wilkinson.


Astonishing Results

It’s not an understatement to say students are often “astonished” by their Footprint Calculator results, as noted in a U.S. Department of Energy lesson plan.


“The idea of us living on credit and hitting my Overshoot Day in February was a wake-up call,” Nicolas, a ninth-grade student in Uruguay, said after using the Footprint Calculator. He was referring to Earth Overshoot Day, the date on the calendar when the global population has used all the resources our planet can regenerate in the whole year, and the idea that living in overshoot is akin to incurring credit card debt. The new version of the calculator lets users calculate their own personal Overshoot Day in addition to their Ecological Footprint; a date before Earth Overshoot Day 2017 (August 2) means a user demands more natural resources than the global average.


Guess the Date of Earth Overshoot Day

High school students at a Waldorf School in Antwerp, Belgium, also explored Global Footprint Network’s open data platform earlier this year to compete in Global Footprint Network’s Earth Overshoot Day Guess the Date Contest. High school geography teacher Anneleen Schrevens asked students to break into small groups and see if they could “guess the date.”


“We had one hour to complete the assignment,” Corneel Nyckees, a student on the team that won our contest, explained via Skype. “We used the open data platform to get the numbers for global Footprint (natural resource demand) and biocapacity (natural resource supply). But the key was putting our hands on the updated Earth Overshoot Day calendar of the past decades. From there, we were able to establish the progression pattern of the date, including the recent slowdown. We also considered recent events like the drought in California. In the end, we concluded that moving the date one day earlier from 2016 felt about right.”


Nyckees said he can’t remember the first time he heard about the ‘Ecological Footprint,’ which is widely taught in environmental science courses but lesser known in the United States than in Europe. “It’s such an obvious, everyday concept, I feel like I’ve always known about it,” Nyckees said.


However, U.S. teachers are introducing the Ecological Footprint and using the Footprint Calculator in many ways too. In elementary and middle school, teachers can combine the calculator with art by asking students to color in a foot to identify ways to reduce their Ecological Footprints.


“I have used Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Calculator for a Women in Science event for seventh-grade girls,” says Meghann Jarchow, an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. “I will be using the Footprint Calculator as part of a STEM event for high school juniors and seniors.”


In Northern California, a group of middle school girls even created their own Ecological Footprint Calculator during the Technovation mobile apps competition in 2016.


Further south, Brian Bodas, an Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher in San Diego, California, has been using the Footprint Calculator for four years in a unit on resource consumption. He sums up the power of the Footprint Calculator nicely: “It’s a valuable tool, the students enjoy it, and it really drives home the point of resource consumption and the finite nature of resources.”


Calculate your Ecological Footprint as part of the Project Green Challenge happening this month!


Attention teachers! Help Global Footprint Network improve its Footprint Calculator to serve you better by completing this short survey here.



US Department of Energy Lesson Plan

UN World’s Largest Lesson Sustainable Development Goals Footprint Lesson Plan

Guess the Date Lesson Plan

Global Footprint Network Classroom Activities


Amanda Diep supports communication and outreach efforts at Global Footprint Network, an international environmental nonprofit based in Oakland, California. She holds an interdisciplinary master’s degree in weather, climate, and society from the University of Miami in Florida and a Bachelor’s degree in meteorology from San Jose State University.