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About Mathis Wackernagel


You reading this tells me that we must be related. Even if you are a banana.


Because as a banana, you still share more than 60 percent of your genes with me. If you are a primate, then our genetic overlap exceeds 96 percent. In this case, both of us could be described as two-legged bags of ocean water walking on land, carrying the memory of 3.7 billion years of evolution.


My personal memory is slightly shorter, being born in 1962. Having grown up in Basel, Switzerland, I remember fabulous vacations, not far from our hometown. As a boy, I learned to spread manure, milk cows, and pick cherries. I also remember my parents and grandparents telling me countless stories about food rationing in World War II. Switzerland could only grow enough to feed its residents for 7 months a year. That was scary. It became clear for everyone how essential resources are.

I also remember the first oil crisis in 1973. It was fabulously fun for us kids because the government instituted a few car-free Sundays. We kids could roam freely and safely, even ride our bikes on the empty highways. It was a blast. This experience showed me that a fossil fuel free future would have so many exciting advantages. Of course, such a future would take a long time to come about. I assumed at least 5 years

Mathis Wackernagel │Overshoot Strategist │ Metrics Enthusiast


My professional path

To help build the fossil fuel free future, I chose to become an engineer. I was intrigued by the opportunities of solar and wind power, energy efficient buildings, and advanced ways to manage our waste. Yet, studying at the Swiss Institute of Technology also taught me that technology alone is not transforming the world for the better. After graduating, the Swiss Institute offered me an exchange scholarship to extend my studies in the field of “Community and Regional Planning” at the University of British Colombia, in Vancouver, Canada. There I met Prof. William E. Rees, who invited me to stay on for a Ph.D. We then co-created the footprint concept in the early 1990s as the core of my Ph.D. thesis research.

To us, the footprint was the obvious, missing link. As the sustainable development debate warmed up in preparation for the UN Rio Summit of 1992, there was no clear metric to track the essence of the problem, i.e., how big the size of the human economy was compared to the size of the planet. Bill and I were determined to address this omission. We presented the first Ecological Footprint in 1991. We created a tool that allows researchers to track global overshoot, countries’ ecological deficit, and even your own resource demand. The now ubiquitous “carbon footprint” is a simplified version of one component of the much more comprehensive Ecological Footprint.


In 2003, Susan Burns and I founded a common home for this work: Global Footprint Network. The goal of this sustainability think-tank has been to make planetary constraints relevant to decision-making. This entails to producing the metric with ever more robust and reliable methodologies, as well as building motivation across and within societies so overshoot ends by design rather than by disaster

In the first twenty years of its existence, Global Footprint Network collaborated with hundreds of nations, international agencies, and companies. It developed standards and built ever better annual national Footprint accounts. It held conferences, and its members spoke at many more, and published extensively in both scientific journals and news media. It hosted interns and Ph.D. students and built online calculators and other internet tools. It created a growing annual campaign, Earth Overshoot Day, which now gains over 7 billion media impressions every year. It also helped establish a parallel academic organization to maintain the core data set: the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts.

The journey has been fascinating, and my passion for it has only grown. It has been rewarding to witness how widely the work has been picked up, which both engendered criticism and led to many recognitions. While I am grateful to the sweet accolades, the criticisms have also been a great teacher of an invaluable lesson: if what I offer is not received as an opportunity but as a threat, the common reaction is skepticism and defiance. Hence, I am opening a new chapter…

Image by Ingi Haraldss

My Current Offer

More recently, I have centred my work on how to turn overshoot and the tools to address it into a magnet that motivates, rather than a burdensome topic that inevitably triggers resistance.

Given trends, and the cumulative impacts of ecological overuse, overshoot is becoming the defining context for our economies, whether we like it or not. Any strategy, whether for companies, cities, or countries, that does not recognize this context will unlikely succeed. To orient in such a world, we need robust metrics. To be effective, these metrics also need to be magnetic.

Therefore, I am dedicated to making the challenge as simple and attractive as possible, which often involves metrics. In my work, I am therefore always looking for “the simple on the other side of complexity.” Because I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of people has the brains and hearts to build a future that works for all. If we truly want it, there is a way. We just don’t want it yet badly enough, in big enough numbers.

To advance my inquiry on how to make the transformation magnetic and attractive, I work on collaborative projects and serve some organizations I stand behind. To engage me for consultations, speaking engagements, workshops, or research projects, contact me here


Visit my short bio or my more extensive CV here. You can also check out my LinkedIn profile or the multi-lingual Wikipedia entries. For more depth on my work, consult my list of publications. I am also thankful to all the kind supporters who have cheered me on and made my work possible. I am also most grateful for the generous awards and recognitions I have received over the years.

Mathis habla en otras idiomas, n'est-ce pas ? Jawohl!


Si vous voulez que je vous parle avec plaisir de l'empreinte, du dépassement ou de l'avantage pour l'entreprise d'une stratégie écologiquement informée, n'hésitez pas. Je suis prêt à me ridiculiser en public avec mon français minable à consonance suisse. Cela rendra sans doute la discussion encore plus divertissante...

Pour moi, il s'agit d'un changement de direction. Pour la plupart des gens, faire face à une série de petites décisions est plus paralysant que transformateur. Mon but n'est pas de moraliser, de manipuler ou de paralyser, mais d'aider les gens à mieux comprendre leur contexte. Cela signifie comprendre que la sécurité des ressources devient un paramètre de plus en plus important pour la réussite à long terme. S'ils l'ignorent, ils se tirent une balle dans leur propre pied.

DEUTSCH - German

Gerne bin ich bereit, Ihnen mehr zum Fussabdruck, zum Overshoot, oder zum unternehmerischen Vorteil einer ökologisch-informierten Strategie zu erzählen. Ich bin furchtlos bereit, mich öffentlich mit meinem schweizerisch angehauchten Deutsch zu blamieren. Das macht die Diskussion wohl noch unterhaltender...

Mir geht es um einen Richtungswechsel. Sich mit vielen kleinen Entscheiden zu quälen, ist für die meisten mehr lähmend als transformativ. Mein Ziel ist es nicht, zu moralisieren, zu manipulieren, oder zu lähmen, sondern Menschen zu helfen, ihren Kontext besser zu verstehen. Das bedeutet: Ressourcensicherheit wird ein immer wesentlicher Parameter für den langfristigen Erfolg. Das zu ignorieren wird zum Eigentor.

ESPAÑOL - Spanish

Estaré encantado de contarle más cosas sobre la huella, el sobregiro ecológico o la ventaja empresarial de una estrategia ecológicamente informada. Estoy dispuesto a avergonzarme en público con mi español semi-mexicano. Eso probablemente hará que la discusión sea aún más entretenida...

Para mí, se trata de un cambio de dirección. Para la mayoría de la gente, enfrentarse a una serie de pequeñas decisiones es más paralizante que transformador. Mi objetivo no es moralizar, manipular o paralizar, sino ayudar a la gente a entender mejor su contexto. Esto significa que la seguridad de los recursos se está convirtiendo en un parámetro cada vez más importante para el éxito a largo plazo. Si ignoran esto, se disparan en su propio pie.

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