What is Carbon Footprint

The dictionary definition of Carbon Footprint is:

the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community.

However, when people talk about Carbon Footprint now they tend to be referring to the emission of all six of the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases which includes: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

But what does that actually mean?  Everything you do counts towards your Carbon Footprint. This is because everything you do, buy and use requires energy to grow, produce and ship it and these activities each produce a certain level of emissions.

For example, driving to the shops burns a certain amount of fuel, and fossil fuels are the primary sources of greenhouses gases. The shop will be using electricity, and its employees may have driven to work, so the shop has its own carbon footprint. Then you need to think about the things that the shop sells and where they were shipped from, so that must also be factored into the total carbon footprint. And, then you need to consider, the fruits, vegetables, and meats that the shop sells were all grown or raised on farms, a process that produces methane, which has a greenhouse effect 25 times greater than CO2. All of those elements must be combined to understand the full carbon footprint of a given activity – certainly not a simple calculation !

Carbon Footprint

Why Does it Matter?

A large majority of Scientists believe that as Carbon Footprints of people and industries increase, their effect on the environment does as well. They believe that the levels of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide being the biggest) released into the atmosphere has a direct impact on climate change associated with global warming.

Your Carbon Footprint corresponds with the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions that you are responsible for due to your everyday activities, meaning that your Carbon Footprint is potentially impacting Climate Change.

How your personal Carbon Footprint is measured

If you are concerned about your own Carbon Footprint and want to know how to reduce it then first you need to know what it is. There are a number of online calculators that will help you calculate it.

These online calculators are a way of showing your carbon emissions, compared to other people and other countries rather than being a 100% accurate measurement of your actual Carbon Footprint.

To give an overall score the calculators convert all 6 greenhouse gases into a carbon dioxide equivalent.

A carbon footprint is measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). The carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) allows the different greenhouse gases to be compared on a like-for-like basis relative to one unit of CO2. CO2e is calculated by multiplying the emissions of each of the six greenhouse gases by its 100 year global warming potential (GWP).

Carbon Trust

The online calculators will ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle choices and use these to calculate your score.  As you can see from the illustation below your lifestyle choices matter.

Online Carbon Footprint Calculators

There are lots of online calculators to choose from and none of them will give you a totally accurate calculation of your Carbon Footprint as there are far too many variables to take into consideration. However, they will give you an indication of where you are compared to the average.

These are 2 that I would suggest trying out:

WWF Online Carbon Footprint Calculator

Carbon Footprint Ltd Online Carbon Footprint Calculator

How can you reduce your Carbon Footprint

If you’ve completed one of the online calculators you will now have an indication of what your Carbon Footprint is. So how can you reduce it.

This infographic gives a visual illustration of the potential effect that different activities may have on your Carbon Footprint. I don’t necessarily agree with them all, and I’m certainly not advocating that people start having less children, but it is a useful visual aid.

This infographic shows Carbon Footprint choices. Credit: Seth Wynes/Kimberly Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, 2017

Here’s a simple list of practical things that you can do to help reduce your own Carbon emissions:

  • Fly Less
  • Walk, Cycle or take Public Transport where possible
  • Buy Local and In Season Food
  • Don’t Waste Food – read my blog for some tips on How to Reduce Food Waste
  • Compost any food waste
  • Recycle
  • Save Energy and reduce water consumption at home
  • Switch to a Green Energy Provider
  • Consume less, buy pre-loved
  • Reuse and repair
  • Avoid buying disposable goods – reusable is so much better
  • Buy forest and paper products with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) ecolabels.
  • Plant Trees

As David Attenborough says:

Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food – live the way you want to live, but just don’t waste.

And, even if your not 100% convinced that there is a direct correlation to your Carbon Footprint and Climate Change; there’s is still much debate about this; being a Conscious Consumer and consuming less and wasting less can only be good for us and our Planet.

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11 thoughts on “What is my Carbon Footprint and Why does it matter?”

  1. My hubby recently checked out his carbon footprint and it was really interesting! Scary too really. Thanks for all the points about how we can all reduce this. I’m trying to consume less and use less plastic.

  2. That’s really quite scary. I did the test. Ouch. Seems I’ll be walking everywhere from here on in. I do try to walk but not always easy with a toddler. Thanks for making me think.

  3. This was such a useful article. I didn’t really understand how to work it out before but this has really pointed me in the right direction. I can see already when I need to make some changes. More train travel for me I think

  4. I have always walked to school with the kids so was horrified when my son started secondary and I had to drive him. Luckily we have a rota system so we share journeys with other parents now so it doesn’t seem so bad

  5. I think every time I plant a new plant or tree in the garden it’s helping my carbon footprint! It looks pretty too! As a family we’ve made some little changes to our lifestyle and I am glad it does make a difference

  6. I had no idea there were so many factors into our carbon footprints. I try to do most of these things and live as responsibly as I can but some things are very hard to cut out when you are used to them such as having a car and electric ones are a fair bit more expensive to buy which it makes it more difficult. All the packaging in supermarkets really drives me insane, why do we need everything wrapped in plastic?

    1. I know the plastic packaging is crazy. We’re lucky that we have a couple of good farm shops near us that sell lots of plastic free veg

  7. I would like to move to an electric car. I am also considering taking a train across Europe with my boys over the Summer over driving. Its so important to start to make changes. We are also trying to reduce our consumption across the board.

  8. Our carbon footprint probably isn’t great, as we have family in Scotland and Germany so frequently travel between the two countries and we usually go by plane. However, we are a car free household – always have been – and we are with a green energy provider.

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