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Regional ecological footprint

Why we monitor regional ecological footprint

Graphic drawing showing an ecological footprint as a large foot (with buildings coming out of the ankle) stomping on the land

Waikato Regional Council needs to know about our region’s consumption of natural resources, how much waste is produced, and how that waste is dealt with so we can measure the effect of these activities on our region. We are responsible for sustainably managing our region’s natural resources under Section 30 of the Resource Management Act 1991. The information we gather to measure our Regional Ecological Footprint tells us how our lifestyle impacts on the environment. It will also help us understand how Waikato people’s current actions affect our region’s future economy and our quality of life.

This indicator monitors:

The area of productive land required to produce the resources we consume and to deal with the waste we produce in the Waikato region (‘Regional Ecological Footprint’).

  • The composition of this region’s ecological footprint in terms of ‘direct’ land (for example, land used for agricultural production or for roads and buildings), and ‘indirect’ land (for example, land used for processing and packaging of agricultural products).
  • The degree of ‘embodied’ land included in this region’s ecological footprint (for example, land overseas used for the production of goods imported into New Zealand for consumption in the Waikato).

What's happening?

An ‘ecological footprint’ is a measure of the amount of productive land required to support the lifestyle of an individual, a city, region or country in today’s economy. It is calculated as the total of the different land use types (built up areas, grazing and crop land, managed forest land, energy land and fishing grounds) required for production and consumption of goods and services (food, housing, transport, consumer goods and services).

Ecological footprints are usually expressed in hectares, or hectares per capita (per person), for a given year. The larger the ecological footprint, the more resources needed to sustain an individual's or population’s current lifestyle.

It is calculated that 0.85 million hectares of land are required to support the Waikato region’s population and economy, or 50 percent of the total available land in the region1. In other words, the Waikato region has an 'ecological surplus'. By comparison, many countries around the world have an ‘ecological deficit’, meaning they use more land to sustain their populations than what is available within their boundaries. This occurs through their importation of goods and services produced elsewhere. The Waikato's ecological surplus is a factor of our region’s low population density, rather than a low resource-using lifestyle. In fact our ‘per person’ ecological footprint of 5.8 ha is large on a global standard2.

Our regional ecological footprint includes:

  • land used in other regions and countries to provide imported goods consumed in this region
  • 'direct' land occupied by a sector or activity in this region
  • ‘indirect’ land used to produce the goods and services supporting any of this region’s sectors or activities
  • ‘energy’ land.

For example, ‘direct’ land might be land used directly for farming, ‘indirect’ land could be land used for processing farm products (for example, dairy factories, meatworks), and ‘energy’ land is used to absorb carbon dioxide released into the air from the burning of fossil fuels.

Land used to produce our exports is not included in the Waikato figure. Instead, it shows up in the ecological footprints of those nations importing and consuming Waikato's goods.

The land included in an average Waikato person’s ecological footprint includes:

  • grazing land used for sheep, beef and dairy farming (44 percent)
  • built land, such as houses, buildings, and roads (24 percent)
  • forest land used as ‘energy’ land (21 percent)
  • forest land for commercial production (11 percent).

The Waikato region’s ecological footprint can also be summarised by economic sector. The services sector takes up the largest amount of our total regional ecological footprint (35 percent), followed by households (for example in the consumption of food, energy and housing material) and the manufacturing industry.

More information

When this indicator is updated

This indicator is updated every five years.

Contact at Waikato Regional Council

Manager, Sustainability Projects - Science and Strategy Directorate


  1. Based on McDonald and Patterson’s (2001) unadjusted Waikato Regional ecological footprint figure of 2.87 ha per person.
  2. McDonald and Patterson’s figure adjusted using Loh’s methodology.