Ecological Footprint of Higher Education: the numbers tell the tale

In 2012, Leuven University College (KHLeuven) calculated its ecological footprint, in collaboration with the Ecolife vzw, the Flemish NGO providing ecological footprint tools, and official partner of the Global Footprint Network. The project was supported by the Province of Flemish Brabant. KHLeuven is a higher education institution offering professional bachelor programs in business studies, social work, teacher training, health care and technology. In 2012-2013 approximately 8000 students were enrolled in KHLeuven.

The ecological footprint is an indicator to measure the amount of land area that is used to provide in our daily production and consumption needs, including space used for buildings and roads, and the capacity of the ecosystems to absorb waste emissions. Eight components were used to measure the ecological footprint of KHLeuven: land use, energy use, water, mobility, procurement, waste, food and infrastructure. The ecological footprint of KHLeuven is 2663.70 global hectare (gha), or an estimated 0.35 gha per person (staff and students). The ecological footprint of KHLeuven is smaller, compared to other reported ecological footprints of higher education institutions. However, it is not a climate neutral organisation.

The components with the most impact on the ecological footprint of KHLeuven are paper use, energy use and mobility. In order to lower its ecological footprint, KHLeuven will focus on these three aspects of its operations. Regarding paper use, only recycled paper will be purchased (a measure which may sound relatively easy, however in practice there were some administrative and legal burdens to take into account), and overall paper use will be reduced by 20%. The calculation of the ecological footprint also led to the decision to turn to green electricity from 2014 onwards (again, a measure fairly easy at first glance, but with further administrative and legal burdens). As mobility represented 38% of the ecological footprint of KHLeuven, this will be the most important topic to tackle, but also the hardest one to deal with. Through sensitization actions for students and staff, the organisation hopes to raise awareness and reduce the ecological footprint of its mobility.

The calculation of the ecological footprint is also linked with the local context. With this initiative, KHLeuven is helping the city of Leuven to become climate neutral by 2030. However there’s still a long way to go, it is a nice example of a higher education institution collaborating with other partners in the community to reach sustainability.

More information:
Ecolife vzw:
Global Footprint Network:


4 responses to “Ecological Footprint of Higher Education: the numbers tell the tale

  1. Pingback: Why do universities fail to integrate sustainability, when general stepping stones are available? | sustainable higher education·

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