The Ecological Footprint of a Helsinki Resident
Maija Hakanen examines in her doctoral thesis the evaluation, criteria and measurement of ecologically sustainable development of communities. The calculation method of the ecological footprint plays an important part of the thesis. The ecological footprint of an average Finn as well as the footprints of residents in the cities of Helsinki, Tampere, Kouvola, Kuopio and Mikkeli, have been calculated in studies of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and in the work of Maija Hakanen.What is an ecological footprint?
By using the method of ecological footprint it is possible to measure the effect a certain community has on the environment and to evaluate its relationship to sustainable development. The method is based on the presumption that all consumption of energy and materials as well as the assimilation of waste and discharge to the environment require a certain area of land.
The measuring unit of ecological footprint is ecologically productive land. The land-use categories included are arable land, pasture, forests, built-up areas and the land required for energy consumption. The human activities that require use of the land are divided into food production, housing, traffic, commodities and services. The ecological footprint includes only the consumption of a specific population, i.e. export is excluded and import included.
The ecological footprint, i.e. land area needed for consumption, is compared to the ecological capacity, i.e. the biologically productive land area. The ecological capacity includes the total area of arable land, pasture, forest and build-up land at hand.
The ecological footprint was originally developed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The ecological footprint has been used mostly to compare the ecological sustainability of different countries. Maija Hakanen, who is working as the Manager for Environmental affairs at The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, has in her thesis developed the calculation procedure of the ecological footprint to better fit the Finnish national and local circumstances.The Finnish footprint is it ecological?
The ecological footprint of an average Finn is 3,34 hectares. Half of this footprint is made up of the use of energy. The ecological capacity of average Finn is, in turn, 4,71 hectares. Looking at the numbers the situation looks good; the capacity is bigger than the footprint. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the global effects of consumption, one should look at the ecological capacity from a global point of view. If the Earths ecological capacity is equally divided between all people the ecological capacity for each Earth resident is about 1,6 hectares. This comparison reveals that the Finns are consuming global resources two times more than their share would allow them to. It is estimated that in the beginning of the century the ecological capacity for each Earth resident has been about 5,6 hectares.
The ecological footprint of an average Earth citizen is 2,3 hectares. This makes up two-thirds of the footprint of an average Finn, but 44% more than the global ecological capacity. Productive land area is, thus, used to an extent which exceeds its capacity to renew. This leads to an increasing shrinkage of the ecological capacity.
Hakanen points out that her national calculation procedure differs from the methods used in international comparisons, according to which the Finnish ecological footprint would be as high as 7,3 hectares and the ecological capacity 13,8 hectares. The surplus of the Finnish ecological capacity relates to the high productivity and the export oriented forest- and metallurgic industry. Moreover the calculations excludes, for instance, the trips Finns make abroad.The Helsinki resident needs land from elsewhere
Hakanen calculated that the ecological footprint of a Helsinki resident was 3,456 hectares in 1995, while the ecological capacity reached only 0,035 hectares.