William E. Rees

Current affiliation:
University of British Columbia

William Rees coined the term “ecological footprint” in 1990, and was a Distinguished Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at The University of British Columbia.

"William Rees is a human ecologist and ecological economist. His research focuses on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability in an era of accelerating ecological change and on the bio-social barriers to appropriate political action. Originally interested in environmental impact assessment, he later developed a special interest in cities as ‘dissipative structures’ (consumptive ‘black holes’) and on the vulnerability of cities to global change. Prof Rees is the originator and co-developer (with his graduate students, particularly Dr Mathis Wackernagel) of “ecological footprint analysis” ( EFA). (The carbon footprint—a component of the total human eco-footprint—and water footprint are well-known ‘spin-offs’ of the original concept.)

The expanding human ecological footprint is arguably the world’s best-known (un)sustainability indicator and shows unequivocally that the human enterprise is already in a state of ‘overshoot’ – humans are consuming bioresources and producing waste far in excess of the regenerative capacity of the ecosphere. Prof Rees’ most recent work highlights the evolutionary, neuro-cognitive and cultural road-blocks to corrective action and on the policies needed to avoid societal collapse."

William Rees received his Ph.D. in population ecology from the University of Toronto and taught at the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) from 1969 to 2011. He founded SCARP's ‘Environment and Resource Planning’ concentration and from 1994 to 1999 served as director of the School.

Professor Rees’ teaching and research focus on the socioeconomic and ecological prerequisites for sustainable societies in an era of accelerating global ecological change. A human ecologist and ecological economist, William Rees is best known as the originator of ‘ecological footprint’ analysis, a sustainability assessment tool now used around the world that has helped to reopen the debate on human carrying capacity. His book, Our Ecological Footprint (co-authored with then Ph.D. student Mathis Wackernagel), was published in 1996 and is now available in nine languages. Professor Rees has also authored 125 peer-reviewed academic papers and book chapters, and numerous popular articles, on humanity’s (un)sustainability conundrum. Drawing parts of his answer from various disciplines, his current book project asks: ‘Is Humanity Inherently Unsustainable?’

Professor Rees is a founding member and recent past-President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics and a co-founder and of the One-Earth Initiative. He is also a co-investigator in the ‘Global Integrity Project,’ aimed at defining the ecological and political requirements for biodiversity preservation while sustaining human population health. Professor Rees’ work is widely recognized. He has been invited to lecture on his research in 25 countries around the world and in 2012 won the Boulding Memorial Prize in Ecological Economics as well as the 2012 Blue Planet Prize jointly with his former doctoral student, Dr Mathis Wackernagel. In 2006, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.