Human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) and the ecological footprint (EF) are two aggregate measures to assess human societies' draw on nature. Both relate socio-economic metabolism to land use and are designed to provide insights about the sustainability of society-nature interaction. Despite these similarities, there are differences between the two concepts. This paper compares the research questions driving each approach, examines how well they manage to answer their respective questions, and discusses the utility of the results for assessing regional or global sustainability. EF appraises the total bioproductive area needed to sustain a defined society's activities, wherever these areas are located on Earth. In doing so, it accounts for three functions of ecosystems used by humans—resource supply, waste absorption, and space occupied for human infrastructure. EF is useful to identify how this demand is distributed between different groups of people. In contrast, HANPP identifies the intensity with which humans use these three functions within a defined land area. HANPP maps the intensity of societal use of ecosystems in a spatially explicit manner. In contrast to EF, HANPP does not calculate the aggregate demand of a society's consumption patterns on the global biosphere. While EF evaluates the exclusive use of a society's utilization of bioproductive area, HANPP maps the intensity of this use (‘human domination') in specific regions.