Ecological Footprint – an Actual Concept, Used As a Tool in the Education for a Sustainable Development (Erasmus+ Project)

The concept of the Ecological Footprint was developed in the early 1990s by scientists William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel. Their research question was: How much space do we claim for living and how much space is available to us? To answer this question, they compared the available productive natural surface with the natural surface which is consumed by humanity annually.

Thus, the resulting Footprint concept can be considered as a tool to determine the extent of available nature and of resource consumption. It is like a balance sheet for nature. The area data are given in „global hectares” (gha) and are based on the calculations of the Global Footprint Network (GFN). The Footprint method is a young and dynamic science. Due to annual updates, methodological improvements and new insights, as well as by correcting errors, the data and actual numbers are constantly changing (e.g., the global productive area size or the Footprint of a nation).

The Ecological Footprint (Footprint) is an easy-to-understand tool to illustrate the excessive use of natural resources and different lifestyles.
The Ecological Footprint is a measure of the limits of the Earth; it is based on a strong metaphor as well as on a scientific method. The idea of „good housekeeping”, which is important for both „ecology” and „economy”, can be illustrated by the Footprint concept. Based on complex calculations the measuring instrument makes it possible to translate resource consumption into a measure of area and thus make it well imaginable.

“Everything” we need to live comes from nature and needs area; e.g. the cotton for our clothes, our food, materials for our furniture and other utensils, roads and tracks that help us to get around, or our waste that needs to be reused, recycled or deposited. The Ecological Footprint represents the sum of productive natural areas consumed in one year, regardless of where in the world these areas were claimed. It is possible to calculate the Ecological Footprint at different levels: for the entire world population, for countries, regions, products and also for people. For the latter, easy-to-use, personal Footprint calculators were developed (see, for example www.footprintcalculator.org/).

Ecological Footprint has two components:
– Personal Footprint, the one that can be influenced by everybody’s own actions and
– The so-called „grey Footprint”, which includes those public services in which each citizen participates (infrastructure, hospitals, city lighting, police …)

The Ecological Footprint is generated and, therefore, can be divided in four areas of human existence: Nutrition (Food), Housing, Mobility and Goods & Services (Other consumption).

Each of these sectors includes a share of Grey Footprint, the Footprint that resides of the social actions and public services’ functioning. This part of the Ecological Footprint can’t be influenced by individual actions – it can be controlled and reduced only by public initiatives and wise policies.

The biggest part of the average Footprint consists of nutrition. About three quarters of the nutritional Footprint is attributed to the consumption of meat and other animal products.

Our school, „Colegiul Vasile Lovinescu” Fălticeni, had the privilege to be partner in an international sustainability education project with partners from Austria, Hungary, Romania and Greece. The project title is: E-co-logical Footprint Training – digital resources for online and offline education, financed under Erasmus+ program, project number 2017-1-AT01-KA201-035037.

Main results are: learning materials, teaching materials and an Ecological Footprint Calculation Software especially for kids. Project was carried on during three years (Sept. 2017 – Aug. 2020).

We target young learners between 10 and 18 and want to provide them with knowledge about the Ecological Footprint regarding the questions:

  • What is included in such a Footprint considering production, use and disposal of goods and services, e.g. in the areas of nutrition, mobility and energy consumption?
  • What are its socio-economic aspects?
  • Which possibilities exist to minimize Footprint – in order to sustain natural resources on our planet?

We tried and worked to develop a high quality blended educational package that addresses the needs at different learning stages, get schools and class teachers in the partner countries interested in using the educational material and in a next step raise interest for participation also in further countries.

The intellectual outputs, which we try to bring under the educational community’s attention, are:

  • Off-line and online learning material grouped in six units in two versions (suitable for school kids aged about 10–13 and 14–18; the latter also for adults): general introduction, an educational game called “Mini Hectare Workshop”, 4 units on Footprint key areas: Food, Housing, Mobility, Other Consumption
  • Teaching materials on Ecological Footprint (for teachers).
  • Ecological Footprint Survey Software allowing kids to collect relevant data and calculate the Footprint of their daily activities.
  • Guide to use of the Open Educational Resources and Certification of the educational materials; unbiased from certification institutions (overview of existing methods to certify the educational materials and how to achieve them).

E-co-foot lays the ground for a pan-European solution on how to raise school kids’ awareness on sustainability which cannot only be adopted beyond the partner countries but also beyond Europe because of the self-scaling character, its “translatability” and transferability of the e-learning-tool and the survey-software.

The materials are already on the project website www.e-co-foot.eu/ in the languages of the partner countries (German, Greek, Hungarian, and Romanian), also in English. The final goal is to reach out beyond these countries to other EU and European educational systems. These countries could use the English version or, in the eventuality of an expressed interest, the persons, willing to contribute to translating the materials in other languages can contact the project coordinators using the email address   info@e-co-foot.eu

The project website offers direct links to:

  • Downloadable materials, for students and teachers, to be used in class, with homework and instructions, for two age groups (10-13 and 14-18 years). They are accompanied by a comprehensive Background unit, which contains guides to use the software tool (Footprint calculator) the e-learning instruments, plus a leaflet with suggestions to use the software tool as a warm-up for the entire project, an implementation manual explaining, among others, some suggestion on how to use the different components of the educational package and correspondence between them, a methodological approach on the Ecological Footprint concept and its importance, and a guide with suggestions for excursions and other project activities, all Ecological Footprint-related.
  • The Ecological footprint calculator, software designed to be used by students, in 5 languages (using reliable scientific calculations of the Ecological Footprint daily values, for a wide range of activities)
  • An e-learning tool, structured under the same directions (with seven learning units, 1. Why we need the Ecological Footprint, 2. Understanding the Ecological Footprint, 3. Nutrition, 4. Housing, 5. Mobility, 6. Other consumption and 7. Spaceship E.A.R.T.H.

The website has also information on the project itself and partner institutions, as well as a social media wall, which is under development.

This material is already part of further developments – training programs for students and teachers using the educational tools available, optional curricula, already implemented in Romania, on-line environmental education program for teachers and students (in Greek), educational programs for students, in all project countries.

We are looking for partners, willing to adopt and further develop the project idea and materials. they are available under Creative Commons licence, on the project website www.e-co-foot.eu/, where all the contact information are displayed. Information in Romanian language and contact data are available also on the website of the partner institution – Colegiul „Vasile Lovinescu” Fălticeni, agricolfalticeni.ro/activitati/programe%20europene/e_co_foot.pdf

Cristina Buta, teacher, contact person for the project

Carmen-Geanina Lăcătușu, IT responsible, teacher, European Projects Responsible

Gabriel Matei, teacher, director

prof. Cristina Buta

Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/cristina.buta

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