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A preliminary investigation of the Ecological Footprint of Melbourne Museum

Najah Onn1 , Liza Dale-Hallett2, Tim Grant3 and Maazuza Othman4

1 School of Civil & Chemical Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Email
Senior Curator, Sustainable Futures, Museum Victoria, Australia. Email
Assistant Director, Centre for Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia Email
School of Civil & Chemical Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Email


Ecological Footprint (EF), often referred to as eco-footprint for short, is a measure of “resource consumption and waste assimilation requirements of a defined human population or economy in terms of a corresponding productive land area” - measured in hectares of land. It is a growing field of sustainability study that incorporates how much bio-productive land is available and the need for land to sustain humankind. Museums are an important community educational resource. In recent years museums around Australia and internationally have been actively creating transformative learning experiences to engage people with the many issues affecting their world and its future. Museums have also taken up the challenge of linking water, energy, and waste management messages they disseminate with the operation of their buildings and facilities Museum Victoria, with an aim of fulfilling their sustainable environmental management plan, identified the need to not only to invest in public education about sustainability, but to also become a more sustainable institution. The aim of this study is to investigate the feasibility of using the Ecological Footprint (EF as a sustainability indicator for Melbourne Museum and as a benchmark against other national and international Museums. It is envisaged that establishing and carrying out an EF will assist the Museum in developing a strategy to achieve its sustainable goals, while also create a way to engage its staff and public with what is required for a sustainable future.

Three key learnings: (1) Ecological Footprint is a simple tool to gauge environmental and sustainability performance worldwide; (2) the application of the EF as a sustainability indicator for Melbourne Museum offers a fertile base for public education and engagement, and (3) there is a need for a streamlined system for calculating eco-footprints of different building types and/or organizations.

Key Words

Sustainability indicator, resource consumption, sustainability management, environmental engineering


This investigation into the applicability of using the Ecological Footprint (EF) is an undergraduate Environmental Engineering student project carried out in 2005 for Melbourne Museum. Where there were data, the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority’s “Office Eco-footprint Calculator”, developed in collaboration with Centre for Design at RMIT, was used for calculations (EPA 2002).

What is an ecological footprint?

Ecological Footprint measures the amount of renewable and non-renewable ecologically productive land area required to support the resource demands and absorb the wastes of a given population or specific activities. In short, it measures “productive land area required” vs. “productive land area available”. Bioproductive land (or ecologically productive land, or biocapacity) is the total usable biological production capacity in a given year of a biologically productive area (including sea), for example within a country. Other than nations, footprints can also be calculated for organizations, urban development projects, services, and products. There are six main human impact categories that are accounted for in the EF: land use, energy use, water consumption, waste production, food consumption, and transport.

The ecological footprint is measured in units of hectares of land, providing a simplified representation of varying resource consumptions and their impacts. A global hectare is 1 hectare of biologically productive space with world average productivity. The EF methodology has gained popularity since its inception because of its user-friendliness and simplicity – encompassing many of humankind’s consumption needs and aggregating them into a single figure. In this instance, it is different to Life Cycle Assessment2 (LCA), whereas it is on par with emerging triple-bottom line sustainability indicators: Compass Index of Sustainability (CIS) and Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)*. It is a leading sustainability indicator in Canada (where it originated), UK, and USA, however only recently has been used in Australia.

According to the latest Living Planet Report, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWFs) periodic update on the world’s ecosystems, Australia sits at fourth-highest in terms of impact, with an ecological footprint of 7.7 global hectares per person in 2004 (Loh and Wackernagel, 2004).

Facts and figures

From the footprint perspective, sustainability requires living within the regenerative and absorptive capacity of the planet. At the current time the world population, and in particular, OECD populations are using natural resources more rapidly than they can regenerate. This is referred to by Wakernagel and Rees (1996) as ecological overshoot.

Figure 1: Humanity’s ecological footprint, 1961 – 2001 ( source: Loh and Wackernagel, 2004)

Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum is a multi-storey building located in the Carlton Gardens, just outside of the Central Business District (CBD) of Melbourne. Melbourne Museum is one of four Museum Victoria complexes, receiving the most visitors. The six-storey building has atypical building consumption pattern that includes:

  • Public access to facilities (> 600,000 visitors per annum)
  • Storage and collection areas (special ventilation requirements)
  • Food: retail and public functions (functions in building after hours usually involves catering)
  • Water (for exhibit preparation, cooling towers)
  • Staff mobility across three other offices, 1 within and 2 outside of CBD.

The scope of the investigation was for the Melbourne Museum building only and its associated driveways, forecourt etc.


Collating information from Melbourne Museum was a four-step process:

  • Understanding overall Melbourne Museum sustainability awareness and processes in place to manage sustainability
  • Reviewing historical data and records
  • Interviewing key persons
  • Entering data into the “EF Office Calculator”.

Building information was gathered via numerous historical energy and consumption reports (e.g. energy audit, water audit, building plan) and interviews with key facilities management staff. Recent billing information (gas, electricity and water) was obtained from records. Other data, including waste production and recycling efforts were also obtained from records. A mobility survey was created that targeted Melbourne Museum staff on preference of travel mode to and from office. This survey was endorsed by the Chief Executive Officer of Museum Victoria. Other interviews with staff were undertaken to collect information regarding food and other goods (e.g. publications, paper use, stationary, etc.) The requirements of the methodology very much followed headings under the “EF Office Calculator”.


The surveys and information obtained were analysed using the EF office calculator. The basis for comparison was selected to be “per visitor”. The results obtained showed the eco-footprint per visitor to be around 0.015 ha/ visitor which represents around 0.18% of a Victorian typical ecological footprint.

There are potentially some non-representative data from the total dataset that was inserted in the eco-footprint calculator. There were also some data that were missing or not processed for the purposes of this study at this time. These were:

  • Area of associated driveways, grounds, parklands, etc surrounding the Museum
  • Other business travel
  • Journal, magazines and subscription (dollars spent)
  • Other stationary (dollars spent)
  • Computer and printer equipment (dollars spent).

Some data were estimated and are not derived from real usage figures. These are as below:

  • Life expectancy of the building (default Victorian value of 80 years is used)
  • Food consumption
  • Office paper consumption.

Example of results

Some gaps were identified in the EF Office Calculator where basic questions had to be answered with specific details. For example, in the Staff Mobility Survey, the calculator has six categories of how people get to the office (Figure 2). This assumes one preferred mode of transport per person per year. In reality, the way that Melbourne Museum staff travel is more varied and complex than the options provided (Figure 3)

Figure 2: EF Office Calculator - questions for “Travel to office.”

Figure 3: How Melbourne Museum staff travel to the office (results from the transport survey 2005)

A combination of two or more modes of transport would reflect an individual’s options to travel to and from work. For example, if a person walks to the office in the morning and carpools with a friend at the end of the day, this equals to 50% walking and 50% carpool per month. It does not reflect two or more combinations of transport to get to the office in a single day; for example, if a person walks to the train station from home and then catches the train into the city centre. In situations like these, the larger impact on the environment method (e.g. train vs. walking) is counted as the main mode of transport to the office (i.e. train.)

A lot of information then had to be modified accordingly to best suit data entry for the EF Office Calculator. In this instance, if a person used two or more combination of modes to get to the office, the person’s walking is discounted – it had no impact on the person’s overall travel pattern.


It is difficult to determine how significant the results of the ecological footprint are in absolute terms because there is no specific way of deciding how much land resource should be allocated to museums in general, and how much of this the Melbourne Museum consumes. There were also some mismatches between the office calculator and the museum’s, which raises some uncertainty over the results. This investigation nevertheless provided an insight into the requirements for the possibility of the Museum undertaking a full-fledged EF study in the future. Data that was collated in the Report can be used for other resource analysis studies and is useful to gauge an overall picture of activities as opposed to numeric figures derived from the calculator. It was regarded that results from the Melbourne Museum study was difficult to benchmark because of 1) the unique nature of the Museum building and activities; and 2) the calculator is very basic.

It was noted that there was user advice for users attempting to approach EPA Victoria’s EF Office Calculator (Figure 4).

Figure 4: EPA Victoria’s EF Office Calculator user advice.

It was thus found that eco-footprint results are only useful when comparing year-on-year Melbourne Museum progress. The most crucial weakness seems to be the methodological problems emanating from so many different kinds of environmental impacts being converted and reduced to one single unit: the hectare. To eliminate this problem, there is a need to focus on the consumption patterns and environmental impacts identified in footprint analyses, rather than discussing the absolute figures. There is no perfect calculator for every building. Retrospectively speaking, much is needed to be done towards improving data collection systems, and the identification of the right calculator for the job. All of these factors would be considered for future EF studies.


Aall C and Norland I T (2002). Report 1/02: The Ecological Footprint of the City of Oslo – Results and Proposals for the Use of the Ecological Footprint in Local Environmental Policy. Byr%C3%A5dsavdeling%20for%20milj%C3%B8%20og%20samferdsel/Internett/Dokumenter/rapport/sentralt/oslo%20eco%20foot-print%20report.doc.Accessed March 2005.

EPA (2003). Schools Ecological Footprint Calculator”. Excel software provided by Victorian Environment Protection Authority at Accessed December 2006.

Grant T (2004). The Interface between Ecological Footprints and Life Cycle Assessment. Sixth International Conference on EcoBalance, Epochal Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan.

Loh J and Wackernagel M (editors) (2004). The Living Planet Report 2004. World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland.

Wackernagel M and Rees W (1996). Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabriola Island, BC and Stony Creek, CT. New Society Publishers, Canada.

2 Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) information can be found at

* Compass Index of Sustainability (CIS) information can be found at

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