How Big is Your Footprint?


The Butterfly Effect is explained in Chaos Theory (simplified) as the idea that very small changes (for example, a butterfly flapping its wings) can alter the world around it in very large, unexpected ways (in the case of the butterfly, the result being changing the course of a hurricane on the other side of the planet).  Today, we have to deal with the very large consequences of what was thought of as unimportant decisions made over the course of human history about how we use our planet’s resources.

The small changes we make in our own lives and homes, will help create a sustainable and resilient world for us all to live in. That decision to use our smartphone for one extra year and not get that 'free upgrade' right now? It can have a huge effect on the lives of the hundreds of miners and their families, responsible for mining the rare minerals that go into making our phone, in central Africa. That decision to ride a bike to work one or two days a week rather than drive? That just removed enough CO2 from the environment to stop the last ice cap melting!

Activity Type

Individual / Experiential


3 days

Learning Outcomes

  • To learn how to calculate and reduce your ecological footprint

  • To understand the impacts that individual actions, lifestyles, and consumption choices have on the world

  • To understand the concept of overshoot, natural capital, and that our species is using more resources than this planet can provide at a sustainable rate


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Go to a website where you can calculate your ecological footprint. There are many such websites, for example the Worldwide Fund for Nature

  2. Consider the things/actions that you consider necessary to your life in order to survive and then the things that you can live without. Write these down in two different lists as a comparison of “Wants vs. Needs”.

  3. Pick several things from your “Wants” list (for example your car, bottled water etc) that make your life better but might be possible to give up without too much difficulty.

  4. Do an experiment to live 3 days without these items. At the same time, implement some of the eco-friendly habits you might come across in the ecological footprint (for example, taking quicker showers, purchasing less clothes, fixing your electrical appliance at a repair shop instead of buying a new one, taking the bus, etc).

  5. Take the test again after 3 days and see how your ecological footprint results compare to the previous results.



  • What does this exercise tell you about the interconnections between all species, and how our daily actions affect other people and the Earth?

  • How are you affected by actions and decisions by other people around the world?

  • How does it feel to give up some items or activities that are not basic necessities for you?

Instructions for Submission

Submit a short summary (up to 200 words) in Moodle about your experience and list some of the things you are choosing to give up (the ones listed under “Wants”). Write down your ecological footprint numbers in the summary so that other users can compare it to their own. Instructions on submitting things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

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