Carbon Footprint vs. Ecological Footprint: We Explain the Difference

Carbon Footprint vs. Ecological Footprint: We Explain the Difference

When trying to decipher and understand the scope of  harm we have done and continue to do to the environment, it is beneficial to have specific metrics to go by. 

These specific numbers and terms take the abstract and turn them into something concrete, tangible, and real. By breaking down various aspects of climate change and explaining it in more measurable terms, it becomes more accessible. Increasing accessibility results in more people taking greater actions to fight for the health of our planet.  

Issues arise in the process of analyzing and breaking down the various ways in which human activity is constantly contributing to global warming. There are so many factors to consider, each deserving their own precise calculation and attention. 

Here are just a few of many issues related to climate change that we must work harder to understand:

  • The burning of fossil fuels
  • CO2 emissions
  • The amount of productive land and forest land we have, 
  • Renewable energy efforts/striving toward energy efficiency
  • Decrease in remaining natural resources

These focuses are crucial to understand and put a halt to damage we have already done to the environment. 

Although these are all individual issues, there is one common denominator (and it’s not a fun one). What they all share is that they are long-lasting negative effects that human activity has on our environment. In this post, we will be discussing two distinct measurements of humanity’s footprint on the planet; our carbon footprint and our ecological footprint. 

What Is Our Carbon Footprint?

Carbon footprint is a measurement of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases (GHG) a person, company, community, or society emits as a result of their daily activities. Every single person has a carbon footprint as all of our day to day involve activities that result in the emission of greenhouse gases.

This harsh (and inconvenient) truth can be hard to hear and wrap our heads around. However, we can turn our fear and uncertainty into motivation and passion for making and inspiring change. If each individual has their own carbon footprint, then each individual can reduce their own carbon dioxide emissions. The power and control is in your hands to take responsibility for your emissions.  

There are a variety of online calculator tools to determine your carbon footprint. The calculator will take you through questions about your home energy habits, commuting, travel, how you shop and more.

These factors are integral to finding where you contribute the most carbon, and therefore can cut back the most. To cut back on carbon emissions, it is essential to understand the parts of your life that are resulting in the most emissions. From there, you can create an actionable plan to make changes. 

Carbon footprint calculators are a super helpful tool in accountability and preserving our delicate ecosystems.

How Is an Ecological Footprint Different?

The term “ecological footprint” is far less common than its carbon footprint counterpart, that does not however mean that it is any less important. What the two share is that they are both ways to measure our use of resources and the harm that it is causing.  

A carbon footprint is focused on GHG  emissions, and an ecological footprint is focused on how much land we are using for various purposes such as cropland, fisheries, livestock, as well as how much viable land we have remaining. 

It explores how much land a company or product needs to operate and compares it to how many productive areas are still available.

The Global Balance Sheet

Looking after the environment while also understanding our current needs is a balancing act. We have to think about how much land we have at our disposal and the greenhouse gases emitted due to our activities. 

Luckily, there are ways to have everything we need without putting our planet in further jeopardy.

How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?

Hopefully you learned a thing or two from our brief emissions lesson. So what do we do with this information?  

The first step to making real change is to research and understand the issue. So onto step two we go! 

Now, it is time for the second step of making real change: actually making changes. Here are some real, actionable ways that we can all help reduce our carbon footprint and help the planet. 

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

When we reduce, reuse, and recycle, we become more sustainable in nearly every aspect of our lives. Each of these stages is both a mentality and an active endeavor, so the first step is retraining your mind to be more focused on sustainability.

Before purchasing something, stop and ask yourself “do I really need this?”. Perhaps you still have something perfectly good at home, or rather than getting takeout, you have some spring mix in the fridge that is in danger of going bad. 

Taking inventory of  what you have is integral to understanding what you do and do not need. This will lead you to a cycle of reducing how much you both purchase and consume.

By reducing what you have and need, you will save a significant sum of money due to cutting out those unnecessary purchases. In addition to that, you are doing a great service to the environment by not overbuying or hoarding items.

Invest in one-time purchases like reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottles. These will save you money and save the environment a great deal of strife in the long run.

Lastly, we have the ever-important art of recycling. Eventually, all products will either break or no longer be of use. If you cannot donate, sell, or upcycle the item, it is likely time to dispose of it safely and ethically. By recycling a biodegradable item, you are returning it to the earth to break down naturally and help feed new plants.

Through some minor lifestyle adjustments, we can greatly impact humanity’s demand for waning resources and significantly limit the use of fossil fuel emitted into the atmosphere.

Pivot Away From Single-Use Plastics

It is easy to underestimate the damage caused by the use and disposal of single-use plastics. 

The truth is that these materials cannot fully break down, so we are left with tiny pieces of plastic referred to as microplastics polluting our landfills, oceans, and the rest of our planet for generations to come. For such a brief window of use, we create lifetimes of pollution.

Oftentimes, these single-use plastics are in products intended for disposal anyways. So much packaging is mostly or entirely plastic, which can’t be reused. Instead, look into more sustainable packaging options such as glass jars, compostable envelopes, and recyclable boxes. 

Start Composting

Remember when we mentioned compostable envelopes two seconds ago? That was so fun; we thought we would talk about it some more! 

Composting is without a doubt the best way to dispose of your items in an environmentally friendly way. Of course, not everything can be composted, so it is always a cross reference a  guide on what can and cannot be added to your 


Composting is the process of natural decomposition among specific biodegradable resources. Eventually, these materials break down to create a fertilizer that serves as a tremendous asset to any home or community garden. 

Rather than throwing out your food scraps, add them to your backyard compost. If you either do not have a garden or room for a compost bin, don’t worry! Many cities and towns have community compost piles that are always happy to receive your contributions.

Shop Sustainably

Last but not least we have sustainable shopping. Shopping sustainably means being aware of where you spend your money and being conscious of that company’s practices and ethics. 

Spending your money both deliberately and mindfully is one of the best tools we have to prove to corporations that this is the way of the future. Make sure that both the product and the company you are wanting to buy from align with your code of ethics, operating with both the customer and the planet in mind.

Similarly, make sure that they are cruelty-free and vegan, and that they treat their employees fairly and well. . It is crucial to support companies that function in a way we would like others to emulate.


Though pursuing a sustainable lifestyle can feel like a tricky balancing act, rewards are abundant and so worth it. With helpful tools and calculators like carbon footprints and ecological footprints to help guide our way, we can help lower our individual and world average consumption and carbon emissions. The planet thanks us. 



Carbon Footprint Factsheet | University of Michigan

Ecological Footprint | Footprint Network

Can I Compost It | University of Florida

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