Skoll Foundation


Global Footprint Network

Skoll Awardee(s): Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel
Award Year: 2007
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Environmental Sustainability

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“Ecological overshoot affects us all, but disproportionately the poor, who cannot buy themselves out of the problem by getting resources from elsewhere. To maintain human well being, it is imperative that individuals and institutions all around the world recognize the reality of ecological limits and start making decisions consistent with those limits. The Ecological Footprint can help make that happen.”

Sub-Issues: Living Conditions; Water Management Human consumption of ecological resources is in a state of “ecological overshoot”: 25 percent above global sustainable limits.

The Skoll Awardees: Mathis Wackernagel’s father introduced him to The Limits to Growth when he was 10, and he grew up with a vivid awareness of the potential for global ecological collapse. He became an and developed the Ecological Footprint, a science-based tool that graphically shows depletion of ecological assets, while completing his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia. He has worked on sustainability issues with businesses, academics, NGOs and governments around the world. Susan Burns, also an engineer, is a lifelong nature enthusiast and founder of Natural Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm. She created a business case for sustainability and promoted groundbreaking concepts in pollution prevention and industrial ecology. The couple launched Global Footprint Network (GFN) in 2003 to advance the Ecological Footprint, coordinate research, develop methodology standards and provide decision makers with resource accounts to help humans operate within the Earth’s ecological limits. GFN coordinates research, develops methodological standards, and releases annual data, giving decision-makers the data they need to succeed in a world facing tightening resource constraints. At the time of the Award, two national governments (Wales and Ireland) had adopted the Ecological Footprint as an indicator of sustainability, and it was being used by hundreds of cities and counties.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2007:

  • As of 2014, more than 57 nations have worked with the Global Footprint Network. More than 20 have completed reviews of the Ecological Footprint. Japan, Switzerland, UAE, Ecuador, Latvia, Luxembourg, Scotland, the Philippines, Indonesia, Scotland, Wales, and Finland have formally adopted it.
  • More than a million people around the world use the tool to calculate their own footprint each year.
  • GFN’s Ten-Ten campaign is engaging national governments to establish the Ecological Footprint as a prominent, globally accepted metric as ubiquitous as the GDP.


© 2015 Skoll Foundation.