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Redefining Progress is committed to a process of continuous improvement to the Ecological Footprint Quiz. By incorporating new data as it becomes available, adjusting our calculation techniques to match the state of the art with respect to footprint methods, and redesigning the quiz based on visitor feedback, we hope to enhance its overall accuracy and relevancy to current sustainability issues. Improvements will fall into four major areas:

Scientific Improvements to the General Footprint Methodology

This quiz is based on a general methodology known as Footprint 2.0, developed at Redefining Progress in 2005. Footprint 2.0 was a response to many of the concerns expressed about standard footprint methodologies by scientists between 1999 and 2004. In particular, Footprint 2.0 includes the entire surface of the Earth in biocapacity, allocates space for other species, changes the basis of equivalence factors to net primary productivity (NPP), reallocates the carbon budget and reports carbon sequestration biocapacity. Still, further refinements are needed to make the ecological footprint a more rigorous tool for sustainability analysis. For example, footprint methods are still lacking in their ability to distinguish between sustainable and unsustainable management of forests, croplands, pasturelands, and fisheries. Footprint 3.0 is under development, and will remedy most of the remaining scientific concerns. When Footprint 3.0 is complete, the quiz will be modified to be consistent with its approach.

More Accurate Countrywide Averages

The quiz relies on initial countrywide averages for the carbon footprint, food footprint, housing footprint, and goods and services footprint and then makes a series of additions or deductions to these based on visitor choices. The initial countrywide averages are based on data sets published by international agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank. There are concerns about the accuracy of these data sets and the time lag between gathering and publishing the figures. Our goal is to replace these data sets with more accurate data derived from in-country sources wherever possible. In addition, there are emerging opportunities for use of real time data derived from satellites that can alleviate the time lag concern. These new data sources will be incorporated into the quiz as they become available.

Refining the Effects of Choices

With most questions, the quiz adjusts a visitor’s ecological footprint up our down from countrywide averages based on their choices. For each question, there is a mid-point selection that is assumed to represent the countrywide average in terms of consumption or behavior. For example, the quiz asks a visitor to select a diet profile based on five choices: vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, carnivore, or top of the food chain. It is assumed that omnivore is the country wide average, and adjustments are made to the visitor’s footprint if he or she makes a choice other than this assumed mid-point value. The assumed mid-point value and the marginal effect of choices away from this mid-point are important topics for ongoing research. While the quiz relies on published research in most cases, the overall body of research supporting the quiz is still lacking. Because of this, we will be constantly looking for additional studies that, for example, tell us just how much the carbon footprint can be reduced by moving from a carnivorous diet to a vegetarian diet.

Additional Sustainability Issues and Aspects

This quiz addresses the effects of a wide range of lifestyle choices such as diet, shopping habits, transportation and spending behavior, but not all. It is our intention to modify the quiz to address important sustainability issues and aspects we’ve overlooked or that emerge as time goes on. For example, when the first version of this quiz was launched, carbon offset markets were still in their infancy. Now, it is possible for households to purchase carbon offsets quite easily, and so we’ve included that choice in our quiz. The Footprint Forum will be the primary way we gather input and identify where we need to make changes to the overall quiz design.

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