Teacher ideas: ecological and carbon footprints

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What you need

Access to the internet

Teaching focus

Ecological footprint and carbon footprints can be determined using specific calculators. The footprints describe human impacts on the Earth using different measures.

What to do

As a starting point ask students to draw a diagram to show what they know about two types of footprint; their ecological footprint and their carbon footprint. Provide an A3-sized sheet divided in half for their drawing. Students pair up with another student and share their drawings.

View the animation Carbon footprint. Ask students to review and update their drawings.

Explain that they are going to compare two footprint calculators; one ecological footprint calculator and a carbon footprint calculator.

Provide students with the activity sheet Ecological and carbon footprints.

Students are to access the Ecological Footprint website at:

Students select the Personal calculator from the Ecological Footprint Calculators. They answer questions about their lifestyle.

Ask students to complete the Personal calculator, which takes about 15 minutes. Then have students review the Australian Greenhouse Calculator and complete the table on the activity sheet Ecological and carbon footprints.


Prompt students to think about their footprints by discussing these points:

  • The ecological footprint calculator can be used to determine your personal footprint. The outcomes are expressed as the amount of biologically productive land required to produce the resources you consume. It can be measured in number of Earths or global hectares (gha) per person or sometimes in the number of equivalent hockey fields.

  • The Australian Greenhouse Calculator is an example of how an individual can calculate their carbon footprint. It measures the greenhouse gases (ghgs) people produce in units of tonnes (or kilograms) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

  • Consider what strategies students can use to reduce their footprints.

Further exploration

Introduce a website students could use to develop community projects related to reducing ghg emissions.

  • The GreenHouse Games website at www.greenhousegames.vic.gov.au: This is an eight-week challenge for employees in workplaces, and families in schools and community groups to take on actions at home to become a 'One Tonne SuperHero Household'. Completed actions during the challenge translate to a projected annualised saving of ghgs, and the savings target for each household is one tonne or more. Every action taken in the home makes significant improvements for the environment and fights the impacts of climate change.

Teacher background

Ecological footprint and carbon footprint are two different measures of human impact on the Earth.

  • An ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. It compares human demand with the Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste.

  • A carbon footprint, on the other hand, relates to the amount of ghgs produced by humans through burning fossil fuels to produce energy. It is a measure of the impact of human activities on the environment, and in particular, climate change.


Student activity sheet: Ecological and carbon footprints (Word, 45 KB, pdf, 16 KB)