The Ecological Footprint as a Sustainability Metric: Implications for Sustainability
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The Ecological Footprint is a popular sustainability metric that informs human consumption and can be set against bioproductivity at various scales as a land-based composite indicator. It was introduced by Rees and Wackernagel and, since the early 1990s, has been developed by members of the Global Footprint Network. When applied in evidence-based decision-making, the National Footprint Accounts at the national scale can provide information for policymakers and governments to establish regulations that ensure sustainability. It is, therefore, crucial that the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting be recognised as a measure of human resource consumption (demand) set against natural capital (supply). Governments would do well to adopt it alongside financial accounts to represent natural capital and its use. Although, as a sustainability metric, the Ecological Footprint is considered to wholly represent only the environmental dimension as a biophysical indicator, arguably it can do more than that as a consumption-based indicator. Based on a time series since 1961, it is possible to track crosstemporal changes of land-type categories (crop land, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, built-up land, and carbon) of the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting for a specific annual edition of the accounts. This information conveys whether a country is in ecological deficit or reserve and what may be contributing to such a national trend. Although the analysis is often executed at national scale, it is possible to access other scales. The study area in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor (‘the corridor’) of Costa Rica represents a local–regional case that is compared to its national environmental performance based on the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity. Farmers in the core corridor were surveyed in the case study using the Footprint Calculator as a measure of environmental performance on the consumption categories of food, housing, and transportation used in this global Footprint calculator to address 15 main questions involved in the assessment. Thus, their resulting Footprints are discussed here through comparison to the national level as a special case in the corridor. By doing so, it is possible to discern the difference that regional Footprints can have from national figures. This becomes important especially for large countries that have local–regional differences in their consumption and production of natural capital.