Ecological partnership further establishes York University as global leader

Usa globe resting in a forest - environment concept
Martin Bunch
Martin Bunch

York University is committed to sustainability and to addressing the intertwined social, economic, and environmental challenges we face locally and globally. One project perfectly illustrates this deep commitment: Professor Martin Bunch, in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), spearheaded the research component of York’s involvement in a major collaborative initiative with the Global Footprint Network. The ecological footprint is the only metric that compares overall human demand on nature with biocapacity – what our planet can renew.

The Ecological Footprint project has collected data from across the globe, from 1961 to present day, that provides some straightforward truths about the human predicament. In 2019, York will join forces with the Global Footprint Network to determine if countries are on track to meeting the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and to improve the Ecological Footprint project’s measures of demand on nature and biocapacity.

“By establishing the National Footprint Accounts at York – a vibrant, independent, well-governed and respected academic leader in sustainability – the accounts will become even more trusted and effective.” – Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of the Global Footprint Network

“We hope that the Ecological Footprint will support evidence-based decision making, inspire positive change and action, and shape future public policy,” Bunch said. “The goal is to enhance the impact of this work on policy-makers in government, industry and civil society,” he added.

Timing is critical

In an era when evidence-informed decision making is often under threat, the timing of this project is key.

Bunch believes that humanity is faced with many challenges relating to the ever-expanding global population (now at 7.6 billion people). These challenges include the conservation of biodiversity and the need for a dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “Understanding and communicating the use of the Earth’s resources compared to its supply of ecosystem services is crucial if we are to live within our means,” he said.

Bunch says that humanity is faced with many challenges, including the conservation of biodiversity and the need for dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

Bunch’s areas of expertise mean that he’s perfectly suited for this kind of work. With an educational background in geography, his research and interests are highly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.

“The problems I address require an approach that transcends traditional disciplinary bounds,” he explained. “This type of work is fertile ground for geographers who are practitioners of a science that is both analytic and synthetic, makes use of qualitative as well as quantitative methods, and has a history of exploring the relationship among human beings and their physical environments,” he added.

York becomes global data centre for tracking biocapacity for over 200 countries

Beginning in 2019, York will become the global data centre for the National Ecological Footprint Accounts. These accounts are the foundation of the Global Footprint Network’s ecological footprint metric, which is updated annually with UN data so that the footprint can help determine if countries are on track to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This means that the accounts track the ecological footprint metric and biocapacity of more than 200 countries and regions.

The Ecological Footprint project collects data from all over the globe

More than a dozen national governments (such as Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates) and many cities (including Calgary and Vancouver) already turn to this vital information to guide their sustainability policy.

The goal of the partnership is to make the National Footprint Accounts even more scientifically robust and widely used. An international hub at York University will not only update the accounts, but also co-ordinate, among international research institutions, methodological improvements to the Footprint Accounts.

What does this mean for York University?

This new partnership means that York will provide the leadership and core activities for an international research collaboration to further develop, strengthen and elaborate the accounts.

“By establishing the National Footprint Accounts at York – a vibrant, independent, well-governed and respected academic leader in sustainability – the accounts will become even more trusted and effective,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of the Global Footprint Network. “This new placement at York will turn these accounts into an even more incontrovertible reference for public and private decision-making in support of sustainability.”

Looking for master’s-level researchers in sustainability in 2019

In addition to hosting the Ecological Footprint database, York University will mobilize graduate programs to support the production of the National Footprint Accounts.

Bunch encourages researchers at the graduate level with backgrounds in sustainability assessment, sustainability indicators, quantitative methods, spatial analysis and geomatics (a field involving the collection, analysis and interpretation of data relating to the Earth’s surface) to think about using the Ecological Footprint in their graduate work.

Candidates would need to apply to do this. If accepted, these researchers could be offered funding of $11,000 per year for two years in addition to a research assistantship.

To learn more about the Ecological Footprint project, visit the website. To read a related YFile article, visit the website. To read the press release, visit the website. For more information about the Global Footprint Network, visit the website. To learn more about Bunch, visit his faculty profile page.

To learn more about Research and Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch, watch the York Research Impact Story and see the snapshot infographic.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, York University,