Fire / Feu

Éléments essentiels d’un véritable indice de progrès

L’analyse de notre empreinte écologique est une des composantes essentielles du Véritable indice du progrès (VIP), un nouvel indice qui fournit des renseignements beaucoup plus précis et complets sur notre bien-être et sur notre développement durable que les indices actuels qui sont fondés sur le taux de croissance économique et d’autres statistiques du marché.  C’est en exécutant de petites actions que nous arriverons à réduire notre empreinte écologique.






























[1] For more details on the purposes, principles and framework of the Genuine Progress Index please see the GPI Atlantic web site.

[2] Wilson, Jeffrey, Ronald Colman and Anne Monette, 2001. The Nova Scotia Ecological Footprint. GPI Atlantic , Halifax , NS . The Nova Scotia Ecological Footprint details the environmental impact of consumption patterns, including transportation, residential energy use, and food consumption, including trends over time, projections to 2020 and assessments of alternative footprint reduction options. For more information, see the GPI Atlantic web site:

Essential Elements of the
Genuine Progress Index

Anne Monette

GPI Atlantic
June 2003

ecological footprint analysis is one of the core components of the Genuine Progress Index (GPI), a new measure that can provide more accurate and comprehensive information on wellbeing and sustainable development than current measures that are based on economic growth rates and related market statistics. GPI Atlantic is currently constructing such an index of sustainable development for Nova Scotia.

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Conventionally, economists, politicians and journalists measure progress according to how fast the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing. The GDP simply measures the total market value of goods and services produced, and the total amount of consumer spending. But measuring wellbeing and progress in this way sends misleading signals. Thus, according to the GDP, the more rapidly we deplete our resources, the faster the economy will grow, which, in turn, is interpreted as a sign of wellbeing and progress. In addition, more crime, sickness, pollution, accidents and natural disasters all make the economy grow. The GDP ignores anything that doesn't have a price tag - like volunteer work and vital life-supporting services provided by nature.

In contrast, the GPI attempts to account for our social, environmental and economic health. Its 22 components include natural resource accounts, time use variables (including the value of unpaid work and free time), and indicators of health, educational attainment, livelihood security, equity and environmental quality.1 The GPI counts liabilities like crime, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, sickness and accidents as costs, rather than gains, to the economy.

Ecological footprint is one of the most essential elements of the GPI, for four basic reasons:

  1. It assesses the demand side of the sustainable development equation as well as the supply side, and places the onus for sustainability on the consumer as well as on the producer. Most measures of sustainable development implicitly place the onus of change on the producer rather than the consumer. Because it addresses the demand side of the sustainability equation and assesses the impacts of our consumption patterns, the ecological footprint complements other GPI components that focus on the supply side.
  2. It challenges the assumption that "more" is necessarily "better." The GPI contains several components in which "less" is frequently "better," and a more accurate signal of societal wellbeing. In the GPI, a smaller footprint is a sign of genuine progress.
  3. It links environmental sustainability clearly and directly with social justice and equity. Ecological footprint analysis demonstrates the relationship between income, consumption, and environmental impact and cuts through the illusion that we can improve the living standards of the poor without also examining the consumption patterns of the rich.
  4. It links local consumption patterns with global consequences. Ecological footprint analysis recognizes that local consumption practices may involve natural resource depletion far away.

The ecological footprint concept is based on the simple maxim that all human activities depend on nature, which is the basis of all life support functions. Nature provides the air we breathe, our food and water, the energy we need for heat, light, transportation and to operate our machines, and the materials we use to build our houses, to make our clothes, and to make every other object that cycles through the economy. Nature also acts as the dump for our waste products. The carbon dioxide, acid gases, and particulate matter emitted by vehicles, phosphates from detergents and fertilizers, synthetic chemicals in plastics, paints and other artificial products, and solid waste all end up in our environment.

The ecological footprint of any defined population (individual, household, province, country) is the biologically productive area required to:

  1. Produce the food, wood, energy and other resources that humans consume;
  2. Provide room for infrastructure such as buildings and roads; and
  3. Absorb the wastes, carbon dioxide and other pollutants that result from human activity.

The Nova Scotia Ecological Footprint2 reveals that the area required to sustain Nova Scotia resource use and waste production is 8.1 hectares per person. This corresponds to the size of 20 football fields put together or three city blocks per person. In other words, Nova Scotians require 7.6 million hectares of land to support their consumption levels - almost one and a half times larger than the geographical area of the entire province. Nova Scotia's ecological footprint of 8.1 hectares/capita is 5% larger than the Canadian ecological footprint of 7.7 hectares/capita. Figure 1 shows the Nova Scotia footprint relative to the Canadian average footprint and the footprints of other nations.

Figure 1. Global Ecological Footprint Sizes

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Treading Lightly: We Can Reduce our Footprint

The current Nova Scotian ecological footprint of 8.1 hectares per person is clearly not sustainable. To secure a healthy, vibrant future for future generations, individuals, businesses, and government can use the ecological footprint concept to accept full responsibility for current policy and consumption choices and take the necessary actions to reduce our footprint. The Nova Scotia Ecological Footprint report lists some basic suggestions to help us reduce ecological footprint:

Walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible.
Car-pool or take public transportation to work instead of driving alone.
Keep vehicles well maintained.
Buy locally grown and organic foods.
Consume the number of calories that are appropriate for our age and level of activity.
Eat more grains and vegetables, and less meat products.
Reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost.
Reduce household energy use by turning off lights and replacing burned out bulbs with halogen or compact fluorescent bulbs; turning down the temperature at night and when not home; hanging out the laundry to dry; insulating walls and roofs; and investing in energy efficient appliances.
Select a fuel efficient model when buying a car, and avoid SUVs, minivans, light trucks and other fuel-inefficient vehicles.
Live close to work or work in close proximity to where we live.
Grow a food garden.

Taking such small actions, and others recommended in The Nova Scotia Ecological Footprint report, will significantly reduce our ecological footprint. If all Nova Scotians took just a few of these simple steps, many of which can improve our health, wellbeing and quality of life, we can quickly reduce individual, provincial, and national ecological footprints.