Definition: Ecological footprint
The Ecological Footprint (EF) is one part of a renewable resource accounting tool that is used to address the underlying issue of sustainable consumption. It measures the extent to which humanity is using nature’s resources faster than they can regenerate. The components (variables) of sustainable consumption are aggregated using weighting factors based on the Earth’s regenerative capacities for the considered resources.
The ecological footprint (EF) measures how much bioproductive area (whether land or water) a population would require to produce on a sustainable basis the renewable resources it consumes, and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology.
The Ecological Footprint (EF) is a method to answer the following research question: "How much of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere is occupied by human activities?" EF expresses the consumption of renewable resources (crops, animal products, timber, and fish), the result of the consumption of energy and the use of built-up areas in standardized units of biologically productive area (in gha). It is a measure of how much biologically productive land and sea an individual, population or activity requires to produce the renewable resources it consumes and to absorb the waste.
EF is usually presented together with biocapacity (BC), which measures the bioproductive supply. The mathematical difference between EF and BC is called either reserve or deficit (or overshoot for the globe).
EF and BC are tantamount to the concepts demand and supply in Economics. When used together, they form the EF/BC accounts. "EF/BC accounting" is frequently referred to only as "EF accounting".
Eurostat, "Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity: The world's ability to regenerate resources and absorb waste in a limited time period", Working Papers and Studies, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2006