Skoll Foundation


Global Footprint Network

Skoll Entrepreneur(s): Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel
Award Year: 2007
Focus Area(s) Addressed: Effective Development

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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 engineer to advance the theme of “small is beautiful” and renewable energy. He developed the Ecological Footprint 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.


  • Global Footprint Network is working to advance sustainability through the Ecological Footprint, a resource management tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use and who uses what. Global Footprint Network coordinates research, develops methodological standards, and releases annual data on the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of more than 230 countries and humanity as a whole. By providing robust resource accounts to track supply of and demand on ecological assets, Global Footprint Network gives decision-makers the data they need to succeed in a world facing tightening resource constraints.
  • Together with hundreds of individuals, 200 cities, 23 nations, leading business, scientists, NGOs, academics and 90-plus global Partners — spanning six continents — GFN is advancing the impact of its Ecological Footprint in the world, applying it to practical projects and sparking a global dialogue about a one-planet future and how they can facilitate change.
  • Their  Ten-in-Ten campaign is engaging national governments to establish the Ecological Footprint as a prominent, globally accepted metric as ubiquitous as the GDP.
  • Their stewardship of the National Footprint Accounts is bringing new levels of scientific quality and precision to the Ecological Footprint.
  • GFN’s Sustainable Human Development initiative is defining what it really means to meet human needs while maintaining natural capital.
  • Their programs for cities, businesses and financial institutions are extending the Footprint into new domains, developing new methodologies and tools and building the market for Ecological Footprinting.
  • Their work developing international Footprint Standards is advancing the integrity and comparability of Footprint applications worldwide.
  • Their network of 90-plus Partners, located on six continents, is comprised of the world’s leading Footprint practitioners and users and plays a vital role in guiding research agenda and making Footprinting relevant and practical.
  • Seven countries have formally adopted the Ecological Footprint as a measure of the sustainability of their economies, such as Ecuador. Ecuador has created a Presidential Mandate to reverse its ecological deficit by 2013 and is examining its national budget to meet this goal.
  • Working with Global Footprint Network since 2006, the United Arab Emirates redirected $15 billion into alternative energy and $22 billion into Masdar City, the first carbon-neutral, no-waste community. The Masdar Institute is working with Global Footprint Network and the government to transform key sectors.
  • Key partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is mobilizing around a second, new “meta goal” (after conservation): by 2050, humanity’s global footprint will be and remain within the earth’s capacity to sustain life. WWF is reorienting conservation and advocacy efforts through its global network of 49 national organizations to achieve this ambitious goal.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.