Calgary ecological footprint

Posted on March, 01 2012

From big footprint to big emissions reductions 

From big footprint to big emissions reductions

Thanks to one of the Global Footprint Network's first urban measurements in 2005, Calgary has transformed itself from the city with Canada's largest ecological footprint – to a city with ambitious policy for sustainable development. From 2012, city authorities will buy all electricity from renewable sources, after having financed the construction of a new windpark. The ecological footprint perspective is integrated in all parts of Calgary's environmental policy.

Keywords: ecological footprint, green electricity, wind power, carbon-dioxide emissions, energy efficiency

The ecological footprint concept was created in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. It has become an established instrument for measuring how much of nature's resources humans exploit globally through production, consumption and waste management. Based on consumption and including carbon-dioxide emissions, the ecological footprint gives a complementary and often more comprehensive picture of countries' and cities' environmental impact than territorial analyses (see also Cardiff).

Global Footprint Network
In 2003, the nonprofit organisation Global Footprint Network (GFN) was created. In cooperation with 23 nations, 200 municipalities and more than 90 partners GFN continually measures 241 countries use of ecological resources compared to the locally available biocapacity. Global Footprint Network is a partner of WWF, which every second year publishes the measurements in WWF's Living Planet Report. The latest report was published in autumn 2010.

In recent years the Global Footprint Network has increased its work with cities. Today the ecological footprint is used as a tool for communication and measurement by more than 100 cities in the world. Some examples are San Francisco, Victoria, Curitiba, Quito, Cascais, London, Milan, Cardiff and Sonoma County.

Calgary has worked since the 1990s to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from municipal-sector sources. It’s efforts included:
  • efficiency improvement of energy-intensive operations like water treatment plants
  • required LEED-certification of new buildings and energy-effective renovations of older buildings
  • shift to smart, energy-effective street lighting (a project that was named as a Best Practice by UN Habitat in 2004)
  • modernisation of public transport
  • harvesting of methane emissions from garbage tips

Investing in wind power
Yet by the GFN’s reckoning in 2005, Calgary had the biggest ecological footprint of any Canadian city. It participated in 2005 in one of the first studies of cities' ecological footprints, undertaken in Canada in collaboration with Global Footprint Network. At 9.9 global ha per person, Calgary represented a level that, if followed by all people, would require five Planet Earths to maintain. This led to action. In 2005, the city signed a 20-year contract for delivery of green electricity with ENMAX, the Calgary-owned electricity provider. The contract enabled ENMAX to invest in a wind-power park (see also Copenhagen). Earlier initiatives had reduced the city's own carbon-dioxide emissions by 4%, despite increasing population. In 2006 the city board set the goal of reducing these emissions by 50% by 2012 (from 1990-levels).

Calgary Climate Change Action Plan Target Minus 50 is one of the most ambitious climate plans in North America, and it has been enabled above all by the decision to buy all the city's electricity from renewable sources via ENMAX by 2012. Calgary is currently one of the most active cities in various networks for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions: for example, it is one of five pioneers in the carbonn Cities Climate Registry, started in 2010 in Mexico City.

Moratorium on construction
A moratorium on all construction plans exploiting green areas was another result of the footprint study. In 2007, Calgary launched The Ecological Footprint Project, becoming one of the world's first cities to discuss concrete measures to reduce the ecological footprint.

The Calgary Ecological Footprint Report, produced with GNF, describes how the ecological footprint study of 2005 became a valuable tool for planning a sustainable future, increasing dialogue with residents and companies to help make the private sector more sustainable, too. A range of new projects has been started, including an EcoFootprint Calculator specific for Calgary residents, a series of round-table discussions, and annual exhibitions engaging schools in sustainability.

Integrating the ecological footprint
Calgary now integrates the footprint perspective in other environmental goals (see also Sutton). These include:
  • ImagineCALGARY, a 100-year vision for sustainable urban development, that has been produced in cooperation with the city's residents
  • Calgary Climate Change Action Plan Target Minus 50
  • Plan It Calgary, an integrated land-and-transport plan and also plans for environmentally-friendly purchasing
  • ISO 14001 certification and environmentally-friendly budgeting and city planning programmes

Calgary is also known for Ride the Wind, a state-of-the-art light rail system. It is the first in North America to be powered solely by local renewable electricity (from ENMAX's wind-power park). It has an unusually small ecological footprint as a result.

The City of Calgary,

Global Footprint Network, "Calgary Looks Toward Lower-Footprint Future", 2010,

The City of Calgary and Global Footprint Network, 2007, Toward a Preferred Future: Understanding Calgary’s Ecological Footprint,

The City of Calgary, 2006, imagineCALGARY Plan for Long Range Urban Sustainability,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, ”Best Practice: City Target to Use 100% Green Electricity”, 2011,

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

A light rail transit train, powered by wind-generated electricity and part of the city's public transit system, rushes through on its dedicated rail line into the downtown core of the city, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
© Michael Buckley / WWF-Canada
Map Calgary Ecological footprint