Calculating land footprint

The Water (WAT) Program helped develop a new method for calculating land footprints. This combines the IIASA LANDFLOW model—which traces land embodied in trade and consumption—with environmental economic-accounting. Land footprints were also further analyzed by the program in terms of land quality, resource use, and environmental impacts.

© Ron Chapple | Dreamstime

© Ron Chapple | Dreamstime

For a study commissioned by the German Environment Agency and conducted in collaboration with the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the Ecologic institute, the IIASA LANDFLOW model was extended. This involved the development of a hybrid accounting method for the model and integration of land quality, extended resource use (water, nutrients, and energy), and environmental impacts, such as deforestation [1][2]. This approach for land flow accounting combines elements from both physical and environmental-economic accounting.

The extended model was applied for the years 1995-2010, encompassing 21 markets globally, including Germany as a separate market [3][4]. The results revealed increasing areas of cropland needed for agricultural products that are produced in one country but consumed in another.

At the global level, the share of cropland appropriated for the non-food products increased from 8.6% in 1995 to 12% in 2010. This highlights the importance of accounting for such products when striving for sustainable development.

This footprint analysis provides key information required for finding solutions to global challenges at the land-water-food-energy-environment nexus.


[1] Bruckner M, Fischer G, Tramberend S, Giljum S (2015). Measuring telecouplings in the global land system: A review and comparative evaluation of land footprint accounting methods. Ecological Economics 114:11-21.

[2] Bruckner M, Giljum S, Fischer G, and Tramberend S (2015). Review of land flow accounting methods and recommendations for further development. Dessau: German Federal Environment Agency.

[3] Fischer G, Tramberend S, Bruckner M & Lieber M (2015). Quantifying the land footprint of Germany and the EU using a hybrid accounting model. (Under review by the German Federal Environment Agency).

[4] Fischer G, Tramberend S, van Velthuizen H, Wunder S, Kaphengst T, McFarland K, Bruckner M, Giljium S (2015). Extending land footprints towards characterizing sustainability of land use (Under review by the German Federal Environment Agency). 


Vienna University of Economics and Business, Institute for Ecological Economics, Austria

Ecologic Institute, Germany

German Environment Agency, Germany

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Last edited: 10 March 2016


Sylvia Tramberend

Senior Research Scholar Water Security Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

Günther Fischer

Distinguished Emeritus Research Scholar Water Security Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

Research program

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