“What is the carbon footprint?” is a question we hear a lot these days, and it refers to the amount of carbon dioxide we (or a company) emit into the atmosphere each year.
One way to look at it is like this: The food we eat, the car we drive, and the energy we use all release carbon dioxide into the air, and the more carbon we pump into the atmosphere, the warmer the planet gets. It’s a simple concept, but it’s also an often overlooked one.
We tend to think about the carbon footprint of the food we buy or the airline we take, but not our daily energy usage, even though it makes up a significant portion of our carbon footprint.
The carbon footprint of a process is expressed in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere. Some activities such as car driving, air travel, and other activities that produce CO2 are very direct ways of producing a carbon footprint.
Other activities that do not produce CO2 such as buying products, eating food, and using products all have carbon footprints. The total of these various activities is what is referred to as a carbon footprint.
If you’re reading this, you’re already halfway to understanding your carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the pollution caused when an individual, community, organization, product or service releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Usually, this refers to carbon dioxide (CO2), but it can also include methane and other gases.
Carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil. It also comes from burning biomass, such as wood and agricultural waste. Carbon footprints are part of the bigger concept of greenhouse gas emissions, which are released when fossil fuels are burned.
Measuring carbon footprints
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and others) that an activity or entity produces over a period of time. Individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments can all have carbon footprints.
A carbon footprint can be measured in several different ways, and the most common way is to measure the amount of emissions produced directly by a person or organization.
To measure your carbon footprint, you must first understand your daily activities, calculate the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by those activities, and then measure the total effect.
For best results, you should conduct a carbon footprint measurement of your house.
The main goal is to determine your total carbon footprint. There are a number of parts to this: transportation, home energy, food, and consumption.
Each one requires a different method, with varying degrees of accuracy. The biggest part of your carbon footprint is your transportation.
This includes the miles you drive, the miles you fly, and the miles you walk and bike. However, taking the bus or using public transportation is never going to reduce your carbon footprint to zero.
The key is to use things like ZipCar and public transportation whenever possible.
The carbon footprints of energy
Once the exclusive province of environmentalists, the carbon footprint has become a topic mainstream America can’t stop talking about. (A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly by an individual, community, or company.)
Recent press coverage has focused on celebrities’ carbon footprints, and we’ve all heard the mantra that our own footprints are too big. But do you really know what your carbon footprint is? How do you calculate it? And what can you do about it?
Energy production is a dirty business: it takes a lot of fuel to produce energy, and in the process, harmful byproducts are released into the air. Since the 1950s, some of the worst pollutants have been regulated (or the production of them has been outlawed), but the environment still pays a steep price for the energy we use today.
The carbon footprints of products
The carbon footprints of products and services is a concept that measures the amount of greenhouse gases that are released as a result of an action. The concept covers all emissions, direct and indirect, and it includes the production, distribution, and end-use of a product or service.
It is based on the carbon footprinting concept that was created by the Carbon Trust in 2005. The figure shows the direct, indirect, and operational emissions associated with different products: a computer, a hot tub, a car, and a holiday flight to Sydney. It also shows the carbon footprint of the average electricity used in a Canadian household.
We all know that our carbon footprint is determined by how much fossil fuels we use. We burn coal, oil and gas for heat, electricity and transportation, so if we want to reduce our carbon footprint, we must reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
But what about the carbon footprint of the products we buy? When you buy a product, you consume the fossil fuels used to make it, so the carbon footprint of your purchase starts with the energy used to make the product. But how much? That depends on the product.
Just because a product claims to be “green” does not mean that it actually is. In fact, a lot of greenwashing goes on to make products look better than they really are.
For example, a supermarket may state that a product is locally grown, but that is not always a good thing. Local does not always mean organic, and locally grown food may still have a large carbon footprint.
There are many misconceptions about “carbon footprint”, and many of these misconceptions are perpetuated by companies looking to make a profit. In order to find the information you need to understand your carbon footprint, you have to be willing to look beyond the mainstream. At first glance, carbon footprint seems simple: if you create carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, you have a carbon footprint. However, there are many other factors that affect a person’s carbon footprint, and there are many other sources that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.