When we talk about the four footprints, we’re referring to our land, water, material and carbon footprints.
Four footprints explained
To cut climate changing emissions we first measure how much we are emitting, then set targets to reduce them.
Why not do the same with consumption of resources?
One reason is that there is no agreement on how to measure the resources humanity uses. Which is where our work on resource use indicators, or “footprints”, comes in.
We’ve been working with Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI) in Vienna. They conclude that the best approach is to use four indicators which can apply to products, organisations or entire countries.
We're working to get the EU to adopt these four indicators as a way of measuring Europe’s overall consumption – and then to set targets to reduce this resource use.
These indicators are:
1. Land footprint
The real land we are using for our food, timber and so on, wherever it is in the world. This can also be referred to as “virtual land”, “embedded land” or “global cropland”.
Did you know . . ?
The UK imports so much agricultural and forestry products that we require around 80 million hectares of land outside the UK to produce them.
We have set up a land footprint coalition calling for Europe to measure and reduce its land footprint.
2. Water footprint
The quantity of water used in the life cycle of a product or by a country.
3. Material footprint
The total tonnage of material extracted to make a product, or a country’s consumption.
4. Carbon footprint
The greenhouse gas emissions produced during the life cycle of a product. Or the emissions produced by a country, including from consumption of goods, wherever they happen in the world.
The UK Committee on Climate Change has published a detailed analysis of the UK’s carbon footprint.
CORE blog post by Richard Dyer - Overconsumption: ‘Tis the reason to be sorry
Using the four footprints together
- European Union Commission-funded report on using the four footprints to monitor the resource use of countries.
- United Nations Environment Programme discussion paper on potential sustainable development goals (SDGs) targets on resource use, including all four footprints.
- CREEA project brochure calculating the four footprints of 43 countries.