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Contact: Kevin Dennehy
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

What good are footprints?

Yale journal examines frontier research in footprinting for sustainability

IMAGE: This graphic illustrates "Frontiers in Footprinting. "

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The notion of environmental "footprinting" as a way to represent the impact of human activity on the planet's environment has become a veritable industry over the last two decades.

Since the concept first gained popularity in the 1990s -- when it was introduced by researchers William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel -- footprinting has been used to explain a range of complicated phenomena as a single metric, spawning carbon footprints, water footprints, and various other indicators to communicate the carrying capacity of Earth.

In "Frontiers in Footprinting," a special feature in the new issue of Yale University's Journal of Industrial Ecology (JIE), leading voices in the field of industrial ecology provide contrasting viewpoints on the value of footprinting and explore new opportunities that this still-evolving field continues to offer.

"Footprinting is a powerful and compelling concept because it summarizes complicated phenomena in a single number," says Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of JIE. "That is simultaneously its strength and its weakness."

The 12-article feature includes:

"As this special feature of the Journal of Industrial Ecology makes clear, the concept of footprinting is one that continues to evolve and advance, with implications across a range of disciplines," said Peter Crane, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "This collection of articles illustrates how developments in industrial ecology improve our ability to quantify and communicate the impact of economic activity on the environment and society."

According to Lifset, the application of new information technologies, the emergence of big data, and visible intellectual rigor and debate indicate the great potential of footprinting.

"By extending footprinting to include social concerns and adding new precision to the examination of the environmental impacts of consumption," Lifset said, "there is potential to offer a more sophisticated assessment of the triple bottom line of sustainability -- environmental, economic and social."


The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, owned by Yale University, published by Wiley-Blackwell and headquartered at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Articles in the special feature will be freely downloadable for a limited time at: http://jie.yale.edu/footprint

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