Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is a footprint?

What is an ecological footprint?

An ecological footprint measures the land and sea area people require to produce resources that we consume. This includes our food, our clothes, fuel we use for our cars and building materials for our homes. It also measures how much land and water is required to deal with the waste products of our consumption, such as carbon dioxide and agricultural pollution.

This is useful as it allows us to directly compare how much land is required to sustain our lifestyles compared with how much there actually is.

When was the original footprint calculator launched?

WWF-UK's footprint calculator was originally launched in 2007. Since then over 200,000 have calculated their footprint and 59,000 people have gone on to join the online footprint community.

Why has WWF updated the footprint calculator?

WWF-UK has updated the calculator to take account of new data on the UK's consumption and production which is supplied by Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York. This new calculator also takes into account all greenhouse emissions, not just carbon dioxide which includes methane (e.g. a key source is from livestock production), nitrous oxide (e.g. a key source is release from agriculture from fertilisers), and fluorinated gases (used in e.g. refridgeration). In addition it also includes key new features including:

Footprint Challenge

Once you've calculated your footprint you are invited to join the Footprint Challenge. This includes receiving an email once a day for 3 days, each with three personalised tips.

Achievement badges

You can gain 10 badges which are awarding for things like completing five/ten/twenty-five tips etc and completing a certain amount of tips in a particular category. There is also an exclusive badge for those who signed-up to the previous version of the calculator.

Tip discussions pages

The new discussion forums allows you to ask/answer questions around specific tips, hopefully leading to a greater level of engagement and support, especially with tips that require more commitment such as changing energy providers or installing double glazing.

What will happen to the current footprint community?

They will be invited to re-calculate their footprint and join the Footprint Challenge. It's likely that their footprint will increase (subject to the data being the same as in their original footprint) due to the fact that the new calculator takes into account all greenhouse gas emissions, and not just carbon.

Why is WWF-UK using the footprint calculator.

WWF-UK provides this tool as research with our supporters and indicates that people want information about how they can reduce their environmental impact. The calculator is one tool to help people do just that.

How could the calculator help me reduce my impact on the planet?

The calculator helps makes the reality of your ecological footprint more transparent and acts as a guide so you can see how changes in your day-to-day lifestyle impacts on the amount of resources you consume. Once you know what your ecological footprint is, you can work out what you want your footprint to be and execute a strategy of how you can get there.

Our Footprint Challenge is about helping you to reduce your footprint. This includes receiving an email once a day for 3 days, each with three personalised tips. You can gain achievement badges which are awarded for things like completing five/ten/twenty-five tips etc and completing a certain amount of tips in a particular category. There is also an exclusive badge for those who signed-up to the previous version of the calculator. You can also join the discussion pages where you and other 'footprinters' can share advice and tips on how to reduce your footprint.

How big is our ecological footprint?

In the UK, the average ecological footprint of a person is 5.6 hectares yet the sustainable level is 1.8 global hectares per person. This is three times what is sustainable.

Put another way, if everyone in the world consumed resources at this level we would need three planets to support us.

The UK's footprint is far above the world average. WWF's Living Planet Report shows that the UK's position has worsened since the last analysis in 2010. We're now the 27th largest per capita consumer.

This over consumption - or 'overshoot' as it is termed-is because we continue to overuse our planet's natural resources, such as forests and fisheries. For over two decades now, we have been 'running on overshoot' but we cannot continue to do so without interfering with the planet's ability to function and renew.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint measures all the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly by an activity or product we use. Direct emissions of CO2 come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy in our homes and transportation.

Indirect greenhouse gas emissions come from the whole lifecycle of products - those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown. Our demand for these products results in emissions that would not otherwise be released (released during manufacture and disposal) therefore the greenhouse gases can be considered to be a part of or embedded in the products.

The UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates emissions based on the concept that the producer is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, a country with a large industrial base, such as China, will often have higher emissions, while a service-based economy will have a smaller level.

Yet, it is often the consumers within service-based economies that are driving the demand for manufactured goods. Individual carbon footprinting allows us to take this into account and measure the emissions attributed to our day-to-day consumption decisions.

Currently, the UK government measures greenhouse gas emissions physically released within UK boundaries but it avoids taking account of carbon emissions and other greenhouses gases emitted in the production of goods and services imported into the UK. A definitive carbon footprint measures all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the consumption of goods and services consumed within the UK.

Approximately 60-75% of our ecological footprint is made up of the carbon dioxide component of the carbon footprint.

What is ecological 'overshoot'?

The word overshoot is used to describe a level of consumption that is greater than a region's ecological limits.

In other words we are using and degrading the world's resources and systems at a level that is unsustainable in the long-term.

This concept has also been likened to a person's bank balance. We can live beyond our means in the short term by using savings or credit but we will go bankrupt if we continue to do it in the long-term. At some point the person will have to not only live within their financial means but also have to pay back their overdraft.

Overshoot puts the spotlight on the reality of living in a world with ecological limits in a simple way that people seem to understand.

How will this calculator save endangered species?

WWF recognises that the biggest threat to endangered species is the destruction of their habitats. Unfortunately these habitats are experiencing great pressure, from many directions including resource extraction, climate change, pollution and poaching to name a few. These are being driven, in part, by the day-to-day consumption habits of people in countries like the UK.

This footprint calculator aims to help you understand more about sustainable consumption and in turn help you to reduce your impact on the planet and the people and creatures that rely so much on it.

What does the footprint calculator do?

The footprint calculator asks a number of questions about your lifestyle and from this, computes the amount of resources you consume‚ either in terms of global hectares in the case of the ecological footprint, or tonnes in the case of the carbon footprint.

How does a footprint calculator work?

WWF uses the ecological and carbon footprint of 123 production sectors, 76 different consumption categories, 54 socio-economic groups and over 400 local authorities in the UK.

This data creates a baseline for the footprint calculator (i.e. a footprint for a typical consumer in the UK), enabling us to translate the 20 or more simple lifestyle questions into a personalised ecological and carbon footprint.

Where has WWF got the science from to make these calculations?

We have worked with specialists at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York in the UK, who work with a variety of supply chain and trade models to build ae picture of UK consumption and production. More detail about the work of, and methods applied by SEI can be found at The ecological footprint conforms to an international standard that was adopted in 2006.

What makes WWF's calculator different from all the others on the market?

This calculator is an ecological footprint calculator. Most calculators only measure carbon emitted per person. Our calculator includes the production and use of raw materials as well, which gives a much more accurate idea of the impact an individual is having on the planet and also shows an individual their carbon consumption as well.

This calculator also allows people to see how many planets we would need if everyone in the world lived as they do and most importantly provides tips on how to reduce it. You can then revisit the site when you have made changes and redo your footprint to see it go down!

Why is the calculator UK-based and not international?

Our ecological calculator is based on very specific statistics for the UK, to achieve accuracy for people living here. So, it is most applicable to people living in the UK. However it can be used as a guide by people living in most developed nations.

What isn't included in the calculator

There are a number of things that are not included by the footprint calculator.

Some pollutants: As an ecological footprint uses recent but nevertheless historical data, many activities that erode nature's future regenerative capacity are not covered. These activities include the release of materials for which the biosphere has no significant assimilation capacity (e.g. plutonium, PCBs, dioxins, and other persistent pollutants) and processes that damage the biosphere's future capacity (e.g. loss of biodiversity, salination resulting from cropland irrigation, soil erosion from tilling). Although the consequences of these activities will be reflected in future ecological footprint accounts as a decrease in biocapacity they are not accounted for when you calculate your footprint.

Fresh water: Use and availability of freshwater is not directly accounted for since freshwater acts as a limit on the amount of biological capacity in an area but is not itself a biologically produced good or service. Although the loss of biocapacity associated with water appropriation or water quality degradation is reflected as a decrease in overall biocapacity in that year, an ecological footprint of its use is not currently allocated to the consumer of the water resource. It's also worth considering that the impact of water consumption depends not just on the amount of water used, but where it is taken from. The same volume of water used in an arid environment can have a far greater ecological impact than if it was used in a relatively wet place. This makes water footprints different to ecological and carbon footprints, for which size of footprint is what really matters.

Tourism: This activity is currently attributed to the country in which they occur rather than to the traveller's country of origin. This distorts the relative size of some countries footprints, overestimating those that host tourists and underestimating the home countries of travellers.

Are children and pets included in the calculator?

Children can use the calculator but as they make smaller purchases and have less say about their lifestyles than their parents it makes sense for the parents to include all purchases they make‚ be it for them or their children.

As children grow older so their control over the amount of resources they consume increases. There is no specific age when they become responsible for their own footprint but WWF has chosen 17 years old as its starting date. At this age people can legally set up their own home and drive. If they did this it would result in a significant increase in their footprint.

Pets also consume resources. Dogs and cats eat a lot of meat (which has a higher footprint than vegetables) and often get more protein per day than people in many African countries. It is for this very important reason that we have included pets in the calculator.

I'm a student living with my parents and I have no control over house issues - shouldn't this be taken into account?

Even if you live with your parents you are still responsible for your share of the household's footprint. This is why we ask how many people live in your house. While we appreciate that not all people have control over house issues, such as electricity providers, they are still ultimately responsible for their own day-to-day use. The best thing to do is to start talking with your parents or the house owner and keep these issues in mind when you decide to move on. Good luck!

Why do you not ask about my bike usage?

The calculator assumes at the start of the questionnaire that you do not travel at all and then it adds the amount of our planet's resources that you would use, depending on how many hours you drive/fly/get the bus. You cannot add points for cycling or walking because they are the ultimate in pollution-free transport, but you cannot subtract them either because cycling doesn't create negative resource usage. However, every new bike you purchase consumes fresh resources so try to buy second hand bikes or better still get your old bike retuned to be the road racer it once was!

Why don't you use more open ended questions to take account of my specific situation?

In order to calculate everyone's footprint, we have to keep the questions fairly simple so that we can accurately measure the results. However, even without open-ended questions the calculator is still very sophisticated and as a guide builds an accurate picture of your ecological footprint.

Your questions have ignored some really important things, such as home composting and solar thermal heating.

There are many lifestyles choices we could have included in the initial questions, but we were keen to keep the calculator reasonably straightforward. However, once you have completed the calculator there are 170 eco-tips that you may have already completed or can pledge to do. This will help reduce your footprint score further.

Should I include work travel?

We have designed this calculator to factor in your personal life but not activities that are beyond your control at work. So by our rationale you would include your commute as you have control over where you live in relation to your work but not the travel that is part of and essential for your job. However, you are free to define 'personal' in any way you like and if that means challenging yourself to include work time‚ then fantastic! Hopefully, your behaviour will influence your colleagues and create an even greater change.

We give loads of stuff away to charity shops. Should this affect my footprint?

If the stuff you buy is new then you are responsible for its footprint regardless of whether you give it away to a charity shop. However the person who eventually buys your stuff from the charity shop can do so without increasing their footprint, since they were not responsible for their original production. Lucky them! So buying second hand can help reduce your resource use.