Greetings from Mathis Wackernagel 

Prime ministers use it in their speeches, over 40,000 web pages discuss it, and even the influential, pro-business newsmagazine The Economist from Great Britain lists its results. Only a decade since we created the Ecological Footprint, this measurement tool for sustainability is being used by hundreds of organizations across the globe.

Now we are inviting you to take the next step with us: to help us strengthen the Footprint movement in Russia in order to speed progress toward sustainability. Our goal is to make the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers: people in government agencies, in policy circles or people working for businesses; people in Russia, Japan, America, or Brazil.

In fact, we are particularly thrilled that Russia is taking up the Ecological Footprint. 15 years ago, we couldnt have imagined this possibility. We were thrilled then by the sudden global interest in sustainability issues: the debate about environment, social justice and development, rapidly expanded from marginal journals, a few academic books, and small NGOs to the world stage. With the UN Brundtland Commission delivering its seminal Our Common Future in 1987, and the Rio UNCED Conference in 1992 bringing together the largest number of heads of states ever in human history, sustainability was becoming a serious, recognized issue. 

But we were equally worried that this global debate lacked clarity and specific targets. In particular, it lacked an explicit recognition that we live on only one planet, and that continuously trespassing the limited carrying capacity of the planet was neither ecologically possibly nor socially desirable. 

Thats why we developed the Ecological Footprint: as a means of making the simple reality of one planet measurable and relevant for decisions at any level: household purchases, urban planning, national politics or global governance.

While the Ecological Footprint asks a deceptively simple questionHow much nature do we have, and how much do we use?the powerful results it provides have helped governments, corporations and communities plan for a future consistent with the reality of a small planet. 

But we could not have carried the Footprint idea into the world without the help of many wonderful individuals and organizations. We are particularly endowed to Prof. Svetlana Chernikova and Natalie Belova, who have offered to nurture this idea in Russia.

What has made the Footprint so effective? It uses powerful, easy-to-grasp metaphors backed by rigorous scientific analyses. Partnerships with such organizations as WWF, BBC and Earth Day, have helped to diffuse the Footprint message broadly. As a result, the Footprint has ignited serious conversations about the much-avoided topic of ecological limits: it has brought home the reality that there is only one planet, and that sustainability depends on living as if one planet was enough. 

And governments are catching on. Over 100 cities and municipalities have or are calculating their Footprint. For instance, London has done it three times: the first one was done by an independent scientist, the second one was sponsored by Londons Mayor, the third one by its economic development council. An environmental protection agency in Australia is building its corporate and educational outreach on the Footprint, and the government of Wales has chosen the Footprint as its sustainability indicator. And these are just some of the outcomes.

Building on these successes, we are preparing a quantum leap for the Ecological Footprint. We are creating the Ecological Footprint Network (www.ecofoot.net) to build upon this momentum. This Footprint Network will work with its partner organizations to move this success into the mainstream. It will help gather the Footprint community, develop Ecological Footprint application standards, strengthen the communitys common voice, and set up mechanisms for continually improving the tool to the benefit of all who use it.

This includes strengthening the underlying national accounts (see box) which are the engine of all Footprint applications. Helping the Footprint community use these consistent accounts will make their applications comparable city to city, citizen to citizen. Also, by making these national accounts ever more transparent and detailed, they will become increasingly powerful tools for government agencies to track ecological assets, overall trends, and sectoral performance.

THE NATIONAL ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT ACCOUNTSEcological Footprint assessments build on the national Ecological Footprint accounts which are the source for all Footprint applications. These national accounts establish the basic conversion factorsfactors that translate amounts of resources consumed into the areas necessary to provide these resources. The national accounts are detailed calculations for over 150 countries. They are expressed in consistently formatted balance sheets, which use extensive data sets largely from United Nations agencies. With over 12,000 data points per country per year, they document both the natural resources (e.g., cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) available within the country as well as the countrys demand on these resources. By tracking production, import and export of resources and ecological services, national Ecological Footprint accounts provide a robust assessment of a countrys overall demand on nature. These national accounts are the most accurate of all Ecological Footprint analyses, since complete trade statistics exist for no other scale, and since these national assessments do not require consumer behavior data or data on the final use of the resources. The national accounts are updated annually and the results are published in a number of places, including WWFs Living Planet Reports. By maintaining and updating these national accounts for the Ecological Footprinting community, the Network allows all Footprint users to apply common conversion factors, build comparable applications using the most robust national data available, and participate in improving the accounts to the benefit of the entire Footprint and sustainability community.

By leading the scientific development, guiding the standard setting for applying the Footprint, and by offering a certification for quality assessments, the Ecological Footprint Network will unite the voice of the large Footprint community, make everybodys assessments more powerful and mutually comparable, widen the interest and acceptability, and increase the reputation and reliability of Footprint assessments world-wide.

Without the Network, with all the disparate Footprint applications, the power of the Footprint is in danger of weakening. But if we use this opportunity to standardize the methodology so that results are comparable around the globe, the Ecological Footprint can become the de facto tool that makes sustainability real and encourages consideration of planetary limits in every decision.

This is why we invite you to join us in building a community of researchers that can take the Footprint to the next level so it will serve us in taking care of our ecological asset to the benefit of people alive today and tomorrow.

Mathis Wackernagel (mathis@ecofoot.net)
December 2003