Visualized: The Material Global Resource Footprint

Michelle Heath
Visualized: The Material Global Resource Footprint

The global resource footprint refers to the amount of natural resources used by humans to support their activities, including the extraction of raw materials, energy production, and the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a measure of the impact that human activities have on the planet’s natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals, and forests.

The global resource footprint can be calculated in various ways, including the Ecological Footprint, which measures the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to provide the resources that humans consume and absorb the waste they generate. Other metrics, such as the Material Flow Analysis, also quantify the amount of raw materials extracted, processed, and used in economic activities.

The global resource footprint is a critical issue because human activities have already surpassed the planet’s capacity to regenerate natural resources. As a result, we are depleting resources faster than they can be replenished, leading to environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change. To address this issue, there is a growing need for sustainable resource management practices that prioritize the efficient use of resources and the transition to a circular economy that reduces waste and extends the life cycle of products and materials.

In 2017, global resource footprint exceeded 100 billion tons per year of material consumption to satisfy key societal needs. 92 billion tons were raw materials while 8.6 billion tons came from recycled materials (UN GEO).

With only 8.6 percent of material consumption being recycled, down from 9.1 percent in 2015, significant effort will be required going forward to find ways to decrease our waste in order to sustain our resource base.


UN GEO – United Nations Environment Programme, Global Environment Outlook for Business

Bt – billion tons