A carbon footprint can apply to anything – food, a product, a service, an activity, an individual, a household, a business, or even a country.
In this guide, we outline what a carbon footprint is, how it’s measured, how it might be used, and how it is increased and reduced.
Summary – Carbon Footprints
Carbon footprints are essentially the total quantity of greenhouse gases emitted (direct and indirect), in sourcing, making, transporting, buying, using/consuming and disposing of that thing – expressed as C02e (carbon equivalent).
For example, a gasoline car while in operation will emit greenhouse gases, but there is also greenhouse gases that were emitted in the manufacturing process of that car. These are the direct and indirect emissions to consider with each product or service we use.
With cars in particular, we can measure C02e per kilometer or mile, but also per passenger (as ride sharing or public transport can be more efficient). So, there’s different ways to measure carbon footprint.
Carbon footprint can also be measured as a single greenhouse gas though too e.g. carbon dioxide footprint, methane footprint, nitrous oxide footprint. But, carbon dioxide is the main gas that most researchers and people are concerned about, so this is the one that is usually expressed
It helps us to get an idea of how thing affects the environment – specifically with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change/global warming.
What should be noted is that carbon footprints aren’t an exact science. The total carbon footprint cannot be exactly calculated for a lot of products and services because of inadequate knowledge, and data about the complex interactions between contributing processes, especially which including the influence on natural processes storing or releasing carbon dioxide. So, it’s more a guide or an indicator of what we might focus on to improve in regards to emissions, than a 100% exact measurement.
What’s A Carbon Footprint?
- A carbon footprint is historically defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Greenhouse gases (GHGs) can be emitted through land clearance and the production and consumption of food, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted
- Mobility (driving, flying & small amount from public transit), shelter (electricity, heating, construction) and food are the most important consumption categories determining the carbon footprint of a person
- The carbon Footprint is one part of the ecological footprint, along with other footprints like a water footprint or a land footprint
- A product carbon footprint is the total sum of all greenhouse gas emissions which are produced in the specified system boundaries of the product or service.
- 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).
- A carbon footprint considers all six of the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
- A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product.
- It is calculated by summing the emissions resulting from every stage of a product or service’s lifetime (material production, manufacturing, use phase, and end-of-life disposal).
- Throughout a product’s lifetime, or lifecycle, different greenhouse gases (GHGs) may be emitted, such as methane and nitrous oxide, each with a greater or lesser ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.
- These differences are accounted for by calculating the global warming potential (GWP) of each gas in units of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), giving carbon footprints a single unit for easy comparison
- For food, it is measured from farm to plate – the entire food production process has a carbon footprint.
- Growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food – all has a carbon footprint
- Transport, housing and food have the three largest carbon footprints at a household level
- For food specifically…
- The footprint is from the production and application of fertilizers, pesticides and other materials used to grow crops through to the processing, transportation and disposal of unused food at the retail, institutional and household level
- The term carbon footprint, therefore, is a shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.
- This includes the direct, as well as the indirect footprint
- As an example, the true carbon footprint of driving a car includes not only the emissions that come out of the exhaust pipe (direct), but also all the emissions (indirect) that take place when oil is extracted, shipped, refined into fuel and transported to the petrol station, not to mention the substantial emissions caused by producing and maintaining the car.
- There’s a carbon footprint in everything: Spending money, drinking beer, sending e-mail, building a house, drying your hands, doing the dishes, drinking tea vs. coffee, a volcano, a mortgage, the Iraq war, the Internet … the list goes on.
- When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is a shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming
- The term carbon footprint, therefore, is a shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.
What’s Makes Up A Carbon Footprint?
Essentially, direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
But, when you look at stats on what the carbon footprint of a thing includes, you have to look to the actual report by whoever is proving the information, of what data was included and excluded from the final numbers.
For example, the EWG and Cleanmetrics report we mention in the sources of this guide outline what was included and excluded in their data for their life cycle assessment (LCA) of the carbon footprints they provide.
The data they did and didn’t include for the carbon footprint of different foods was…
LCAs included GHG emissions associated with the following processes:
- Production and transport of “inputs,” the materials used to grow crops or feed animals (fertilizers, pesticides and seed for crop production; feeds for animal production)
- On-farm generation of GHG emissions (e.g., the enteric fermentation digestive process of cows, sheep and other ruminants; manure management; soil emissions from fertilizer application; etc.)
- On-farm energy use (fuel and electricity, including energy used for irrigation)
- Transportation of animals and harvested crops
- Processing (slaughter, packaging and freezing)
- Refrigeration (retail and transportation)
- Retail and consumer waste (waste before and after cooking, including served but uneaten food that is thrown away)
Due to lack of data, the LCAs did not consider the following processes related to food production:
- Consumer transport to and from retail outlets
- Home storage of food products
- Production of capital goods and infrastructure (typically excluded from most LCAs and is currently excluded from standards such as PAS 2050)
- Energy required for water use in growing livestock feed (irrigation is included for alfalfa but not for corn and soybeans)
- A carbon footprint of food includes…
- Production Emissions – emissions before the food or product leaves the production stage e.g. before food leaves a farm, or before a good leaves a factory.
- Post Production Emissions – emissions after food or product leaves production stage. e.g. for food – processing, transport, retail cooking, waste disposal.
- The key way to determine a carbon footprint is to look at the materials used to make the item. For example, a juice carton is made of an aseptic carton, a beer can is made of aluminum, and some water bottles either made of glass or plastic. The larger the size, the larger the footprint will be.
Other Types Of Carbon Footprint
There’s not only carbon footprints of products and foods, but also for activities, individuals, households, businesses, industries, cities, states/provinces and entire countries.
Individuals and Households
You can use the calculators online or the ones listed at the bottom of this guide for help in calculating yours or your family’s carbon footprint.
Make sure to see whether they include for indirect emissions too – not just direct.
Businesses and Organisations
The different types are:
- Emissions from all the activities across an organisation, including buildings’ energy use, industrial processes and company vehicles.
- Includes emissions which are outside an organisation’s own operations (also known as Scope 3 emissions). This represents emissions from both suppliers and consumers, including all use and end of life emissions.
- Emissions over the whole life of a product or service, from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing right through to its use and final reuse, recycling or disposal.
- Emissions from the raw materials and services that are purchased by an organisation in order to deliver its service(s) and/or product(s).
How To Calculate A Carbon Footprint
- Do a LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) – read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_assessment. This is the best way of trying to estimate direct and indirect emissions
- Carbon Accounting – can be a personalised or custom accounting of carbon emissions
- Use Online Carbon Calculators (a shortcoming of these calculators though is that some of them only calculate direct emissions and not indirect) – google carbon calculators for individuals, households, businesses, farmers etc.
What Should A Person’s Carbon Footprint Target Be?
Assuming a global population around 9-10 billion by 2050, a carbon footprint of about 2 – 2.5 tons CO2e per capita (per person) is needed to stay within a 2 °C target (set by the Paris Agreement)
Greenhouse Gases, And Global Warming Potential (GWP)
Not all greenhouse gases have the same global warming potential. Some are more hazardous to the environment than others.
As an example, the EWG and Cleanmetrics report we mention in the sources of this guide list GWP of different GHGs as:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) (GWP of 1)
- Nitrous oxide (N20) (GWP of 298)
- Methane (CH4) (GWP of 25)
- Hydrofluorocarbons (specifically the refrigerant HFC-134a, with a GWP of 1,430).
What you can see is that methane has 25 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.
Quantity does matter though. The sheer volume of carbon dioxide emitted from most tasks is usually so much that C02 becomes more of a problem than other GHGs when it is all added up.
Direct vs Indirect Carbon & Greenhouse Gases In A Carbon Footprint
- Most of the carbon footprint emissions for the average U.S. household come from “indirect” sources, e.g. fuel burned to produce goods far away from the final consumer. These are distinguished from emissions which come from burning fuel directly in one’s car or stove, commonly referred to as “direct” sources of the consumer’s carbon footprint.
Direct Carbon Emissions
Two of the biggest forms of direct carbon emissions are energy generation (when you use electricity or burn gas), and transport (when you drive your car).
So, we will take a look at these.
Emissions per kilowatt of electricity are the measurement for energy generation, whilst emissions per mile or kilometre are the measurement for transport.
You can see the carbon produced per kilowatt hour for different energy generation methods here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_energy_sources
Otherwise, some further information on energy generation and carbon emissions can be found in this guide about the carbon footprints of everyday things.
You can see the C02 per kilometre or mile for different transport methods at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_transport
Otherwise, some other information on transport and emissions can be found in this guide about the carbon footprints of everyday things.
Indirect Carbon Emissions (carbon footprint of products and food etc.)
When you buy a product, or buy food, there are indirect carbon emissions that you don’t see, that went into sourcing, growing, making, processing, transporting/shipping etc.
For food for example, these can occur on the farm and during food transport.
For a car for example, these can occur in the raw material extraction, material manufacture, car manufacture, shipping of the car itself. You then also have produce and distribute the fuel used to power your vehicle which also creates greenhouse gases. Gasoline, for example, requires extracting oil from the ground, transporting it to a refinery, refining the oil into gasoline, and transporting the gasoline to service stations.
There’s also disposal, recycling or waste emissions.
- Several organizations have calculated entire carbon footprints of products – direct and indirect
- The US Environmental Protection Agency has addressed paper, plastic (candy wrappers), glass, cans, computers, carpet and tires.
- Australia has addressed lumber and other building materials.
- Academics in Australia, Korea and the US have addressed paved roads.
- Companies, nonprofits and academics have addressed mailing letters and packages.
- Carnegie Mellon, Sweden and the Carbon Trust have addressed foods at home and in restaurants.
- The Carbon Trust has worked with UK manufacturers on foods, shirts and detergents, introducing a CO2 label in March 2007
- As of August 2012 The Carbon Trust state they have measured 27,000 certifiable product carbon footprints. – https://www.carbontrust.com/media/482025/product-carbon-footprint-certification.pdf
Limitations & Problems With Using A Carbon Footprint
In most cases, the total carbon footprint cannot be exactly calculated because of inadequate knowledge of and data about the complex interactions between contributing processes, especially which including the influence on natural processes storing or releasing carbon dioxide. For this reason, Wright, Kemp, and Williams, have suggested to define the carbon footprint as:
A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest. Calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent using the relevant 100-year global warming potential(GWP100).
If you take food as an example:
- Predicting GHG emissions with absolute certainty is difficult. Actual GHG emissions associated with a given product will vary depending on: 1) the extent to which best practices are implemented along the entire supply chain; and 2) differences in input data as a result of regional and/or production system differences for a for a given meat/crop production system. There are also uncertainties associated with IPCC emission factors.
- Uncertainties arise from the variability of activity data used to model specific production systems as well as assumptions related to background processes. For example, the specific input data used for modelling beef production systems could be different in Idaho and Nebraska than in Kansas, or the length of time in the feedlot might vary. Similarly, there may be differences in inputs and transportation distances between one production system and another.
A carbon footprint might be better used to give a general sense of the magnitude of GHGs associated with a particular product or activity, as opposed to providing a specific and absolutely certain number.
Again with food…
- In general, there is significant variability and uncertainty with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural systems
- Actual emissions may vary considerably depending on particular conditions, compared to estimates
- A recent study’s results by Carnegie Mellon’s Christopher Weber found that the calculation of carbon footprints for products is often filled with large uncertainties. The variables of owning electronic goods such as the production, shipment, and previous technology used to make that product, can make it difficult to create an accurate carbon footprint
- The dilemma (in measuring a carbon footprint) is that it is also impossible to pin down accurately. We don’t stand a hope of being able to understand how the impact of our bananas compares with the impact of all the other things we might buy instead unless we have some way of taking into account the farming, the transport, the storage and the processes that feed into those stages.
- Do the best job you can, despite the difficulties, of understanding the whole picture…. make the most realistic estimates that are possible and practical, and be honest about uncertainty [in estimations and stats].
What Is Increasing Our Carbon Footprint?
- Meat, Dairy Products, & Poultry, Fish, Seafood and Eggs are all responsible for a large majority of the greenhouse gases we produce from the average food consumption (which can also be attributed to the possibility these food groups make up most of what the average person eats)
- Vegetables, fruits, grain products, sugars, sweeteners, oil, fats, and other food groups make up less than 20% of the average food consumption’s greenhouse gases
- For each kilowatt hour generated in the U.S., an average of 0.954 pounds of CO2 is released at the power plant. Coal releases 2.2 pounds, petroleum releases 2.0 pounds, and natural gas releases 0.9 pounds. Nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectric release no CO2 when they produce electricity, but emissions are released during upstream production activities (e.g., solar cells, nuclear fuels, cement production).
- Space heating with wood emits the least CO2e (31.4 tons per million BTU) followed by 64.2 for natural gas, with the highest being 210.5 for electric heaters.
- Refrigerators are one of the largest users of household appliance energy; in 2015, an average of 726.9 pounds of CO2e per household was due to refrigeration
Passenger cars and trucks make up about 17% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the US (as of 2016). So, they are a major emitter in the transport sector.
Apart from that:
- Of the roughly 126,000 pounds of CO2e emitted in a car’s lifetime (assuming 120,000 miles for a 1995 mid-sized sedan), 86% is from burning fuel.
- Gasoline releases 19.6 pounds of CO2 per gallon when burned, compared to 22.4 pounds per gallon for diesel. However, diesel has 11% more BTU per gallon, which improves its fuel economy.
Reducing Carbon Footprints, & Offsetting
- Eating all locally grown food for one year could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, while eating a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles
- A vegetarian diet greatly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, but switching to less carbon intensive meats can have a major impact as well. For example, replacing all beef consumption with chicken for one year leads to an annual carbon footprint reduction of 882 pounds CO2e.
- Organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy during production but requires one-third more hours of human labor compared to typical farming practices, making it more expensive
- Washing clothes on ‘cold’ reduces CO2 emissions by 1.2-14.9 pounds per laundry load, depending on washing machine type, hot water temperature, and electricity source.
- Better fuel economy
- Driving less total miles
- Automobile fuel economy can improve 7-14% by simply observing the speed limit. Every 5 mph increase in vehicle speed over 50 mph is equivalent to paying an extra $0.20-$0.40 per gallon
- Eat local, vegetarian, or organic foods. For non-vegetarians, replace some beef consumption with chicken.
- Walk, bike, carpool, use mass transit, or drive a best-in-class vehicle.
- Smaller homes use less energy. Average household energy use is highest in houses (82.3 million BTU), followed by mobile homes (59.8 million BTU), apartments with 2-4 units (53.5 million BTU), and apartments with 5+ units in the building (34.2 million BTU).
- Using a low-flow shower head can save 350 pounds of CO2e per year. Setting the temperature to 120°F can help improve a hot water heater’s efficiency.
- Turn off your TV, computer, and other electronics when not in use to reduce your carbon footprint by thousands of pounds of CO2e each year. Unplug unused electronics to further reduce your footprint.
- Choose energy-efficient lighting. If every home in the U.S. replaced their 5 most used light bulbs with Energy Star bulbs, the reduction in carbon emissions would be equivalent to removing 10 million cars from the road.
- Recycling half a household’s waste can save 2,400 pounds of CO2 per year. Buying products with minimal packaging also helps reduce waste. For every 10% of waste reduction, 1,200 pounds of CO2e are avoided.
- Shop smart and purchase items with a comparatively low carbon footprint when possible. Some manufacturers have begun assessing and publishing their products’ carbon footprints.
- Replacing 80% of conditioned roof area on commercial buildings in the U.S. with solar reflective material would offset 125 mmt CO2 over the structures’ lifetime, equivalent to turning off 31 coal power plants for one year.
- Replacing the global fleet of shipping containers’ roof and wall panels with aluminum would save $28 billion in fuel.
- Best-management agricultural practices might result in lower emissions. These can include…
- Overall efficiency of the agricultural operation – getting greater yields per input, as long that doesn’t coincide with a greater increase in total inputs such as fertilizer
- Nutritional quality and digestibility of feed – higher quality diets (like corn and soy) result in lower methane emissions compared to lower quality, higher-fiber diets consisting of grass and hay
- Manure Management Practices – Solid manure storage will have lower methane emissions than open pit or liquid manure systems; ensuring that manure is then spread on fields in an efficient manner
- Grazing Practices – Intensive grazing (whereby animals are regularly moved to fresh pasture to maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth) generates fewer GHGs than the more common practice of extensive grazing. The use of soil amendments could also be good
- Soil Management Practices – cover cropping and composting, result in lower emissions by building soil organic carbon. At the same time, reducing fertilizer use for growing feed (especially corn) could result in decreases in energy use from fertilizer production as well as decreases in nitrous oxide emissions
- Freezing – consuming fresh rather than frozen beef reduces its GHG emissions by less than 3 percent
- Cooking – decreasing the length of cooking, and cooking with an energy efficient method, or not cooking at all (in the case of vegetables)
- Waste – reducing overall food waste over the supply chain process. Also, composting instead of landfill disposal
- Replacing cars only when we need to, and not because of personal taste
- Replacing electronics like smartphones only when we need to, and not because of personal taste
- To stop rich nations leaving some of their carbon footprint in poorer less developed countries – richer nations must start implementing sustainable material strategies that address a product’s entire lifecycle from mining to manufacturing, use, and eventually to disposal. They must consider the well being of the people and environment in the countries they are importing from
- Consumers can also vote with their dollars and buy from more ethical and sustainable countries
- Carpooling vehicles
- Try switching things up with poultry, eggs, or even better, vegetables.
- Take shorter flights and shorter trips in the car
- Hang clothes outside instead of putting them through the dryer
- Workout and run outside instead of using a treadmill
- Stay married – divorced household need two houses to support separate parents
- Have less kids
- Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, e.g. by technological developments, better process and product management, changed Green Public or Private Procurement (GPP), carbon capture, consumption strategies, carbon offsetting and others.
- Reduce or become more efficient or better with your use choices of diet, transportation choices, home size, shopping and recreational activities, usage of electricity, heating, and heavy appliances such as dryers and refrigerators, and so on
- Carbon Footprints can be reduced through the development of alternative projects, such as solar and wind energy, which are environment friendly, renewable resources, or reforestation, the restocking of existing forests or woodlands that have previously been depleted. These examples are known as Carbon Offsetting, the counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- The main influences on carbon footprints include population, economic output, and energy and carbon intensity of the economy. These factors are the main targets of individuals and businesses in order to decrease carbon footprints. Production creates a large carbon footprint, scholars suggest that decreasing the amount of energy needed for production would be one of the most effective ways to decrease a carbon footprint. This is due to the fact that Electricity is responsible for roughly 37% of Carbon Dioxide emissions. Coal production has been refined to greatly reduce carbon emissions; since the 1980s, the amount of energy used to produce a ton of steel has decreased by 50%.
- The carbon footprint of U.S. households is about 5 times greater than the global average. For most U.S. households the single most important action to reduce their carbon footprint is driving less or switching to a more efficient vehicle.
- Carbon offsets can be purchased for the burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas, crude oil and coal
- Countries can follow protocols and treaties
- Mandatory things countries might do are Clean Development Mechanism, Joint Implementation, and Emissions Trading
- Voluntary things a country might do with businesses, non profits, project developers, wholesalers, brokers, and retailers, as well as carbon funds are avoided deforestation, afforestation/reforestation, industrial gas sequestration, increased energy efficiency, fuel switching, methane capture from coal plants and livestock, and even renewable energy
- The most common way to reduce the carbon footprint of humans is to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse (refer to the waste hierarchy)
- This can be done in manufacturing, at household level, in transport, in heating and cooling, in food consumption, and carbon offsetting
- A July 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters argued that the most significant way individuals could mitigate their own carbon footprint is to have fewer children, followed by living without a vehicle, forgoing air travel and adopting a plant-based diet.
- Hang out the washing instead of tumble drying
Hanging the washing out instead of using the tumble drier will save about 153kg CO2 a year – that’s £52 (USD68) each year, based on 150 cycles a year.
- Turn down the heating by 1⁰C
Reducing your heating by 1⁰C can reduce your energy consumption by 8%. For an average household gas bill of 12,500kWh this will reduce your CO2 emissions by 184kg – that’s £42 (USD55) each year.
- Only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need to boil
Only boiling the amount of water for your hot drink will save 72kg CO2 a year – that’s £23 (USD30) per annum
- Spend less time in the shower
Spending 1 minute less in the shower can save 23kg CO2 and £8 (USD10) a year (based on one shower a day and a 9kW shower).
- Turn electrical equipment off when not in use
Fully turning off just one LCD TV (rather than leaving it on standby) for 18 hours a day will save about 5kg CO2 a year – saving £2 a year (USD2.64). Turn off all other electrical equipment when not in use to multiply the savings.
….Total Potential savings are 437kg CO2 and £127 each year
- Fit energy saving light bulbs – LEDs can save 90% of lighting energy costs
- Install thermostatic valves on your radiators
- Insulate your hot water tank
- Install cavity wall installation
- Install 180mm thick loft insulation
- Replace your old refrigerator / freezer (if it is over 15 years old), with a new one with energy efficiency rating of “A++”
- Replace your old boiler with a new energy efficient condensing boiler
- Car share to work or for the kids school run
- Use the bus or a train rather than your car
- For short journeys; walk or cycle
- Try to reduce the number of flights you take
- See if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week
- Next time you replace your car – make sure you choose a low emission vehicle. If you have the budget, consider getting a hybrid or full electric car.
- When staying in a hotel – turn the lights and air-conditioning off when you leave your hotel room, and ask for your room towels to be washed every other day, rather than every day
- Electric vehicles
- Don’t buy bottled water if your tap water is safe to drink
- Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
- Buy foods that are in season locally
- Don’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are out of season, they may have been flown in
- Reduce your consumption of meat
- Try to only buy products made close to home (look out and avoid items that are made in the distant lands)
- Buy organic produce
- Don’t buy over packaged products
- Recycle as much as possible
- Think carefully about the type of activities you do in your spare time. Do any of these cause an increase in carbon emissions? e.g. Saunas, Health clubs, restaurants and pubs, go-karting etc. etc…
Offset your emissions
Limit waste of plastic and other trash. Refuse, reduce, re-use and recycle. Read more at https://www.carbonfootprint.com/plastic_waste.html
- For businesses…
- Energy and carbon footprint audits by professional
- Improved insulation
- Switching off power when not needed
- Renewable energy
- Power and lighting controls
- Building management systems
- Natural ventilation
- High efficiency lighting and power devices
- Behavioral changes
- Carbon offsetting projects and funding can be found at https://www.carbonfootprint.com/carbonoffset.html
- Drive a more fuel efficient car
- Take less, and shorter duration flights
- Consider switching to plant based from meat based diet
- eating what you buy (e.g., saving leftovers and keeping things in the fridge) leads to a 25% reduction
- reducing meat and dairy consumption — 25%
- eating seasonally (here the author provides a quick guide on what’s in season and when), avoiding hothouses and air freight — 10%
- avoiding excessive packaging and recycling — 6%
- helping shops reduce waste by buying items from the front of the shelves, reduced-price items and misshapen fruit and vegetables — 2%
- cooking using less energy (i.e., use a pan lid and reduce the heat where possible, and turn off the gas when not in use) — 5%
If you do most of these things you can comfortably cut down your carbon food-print by 60%
- one tonne of inefficiently-made and excessively-used fertiliser can create emissions twelve times in size (12.3 CO2e tonnes). So at the production end, there is huge scope for cutting fertiliser use without affecting yields
- it can provide other environmental and social benefits, especially for poor farmers in debt because of high fertiliser prices
- Reducing fertilizer use is a real carbon opportunity: up to half a per cent reduction in global emissions — it’s dead easy and has no bad side effects
- Livestock farming produces from 20 to 50% of all greenhouse gases
- In terms of typical types of diets and their greenhouse gas emissions, a meat lover’s diet produces 3.3 tons CO2e, the average diet 2.5 tons CO2e, a no beef diet 1.9 tons CO2e, a vegetarian diet 1.7 tons CO2e, and a vegan diet 1.5 tons CO2e
- Switching to a vegetarian diet, or a diet made of more plant based foods and less meat based, might lower your carbon footprint
- Some people eat proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh and quorn to replace meat, cheese and eggs
Do More Home Cooking
- Home cooking gives you more control over the foods you eat, how much you eat and prepare, how you store them, and how much you throw out or waste
- a gas oven only uses 6% of its energy to cook?,And an electric oven is not much better at 12%
- the most efficient cooking method is simmering on the stove-top
- next best is the microwave as it uses 50% less energy than an oven
- Raw foods that don’t require cooking are the best as they don’t use energy at all
- Organic farming methods for both crops and animals have a much lower impact on the environment than conventional methods
- But make sure to check what ‘organic’ is defined as by laws or regulations in your location so you know what you’re buying, and that you’re definitely contributing to lower emissions by buying it
- Hot water in particular needs to be heated up
- The less hot water you use, the less energy/electricity you use (which generates emissions) to heat
- Buy only what you need to. Over consumption increases waste
- Avoid products that use lots of packaging (making packaging produces more emissions)
- Buy in bulk to save money and reduce packaging
- Check the label – a long list of ingredients generally means a heavily processed item with a high carbon footprint
- Frozen food has the highest carbon footprint, followed by canned, plastic, glass, then cardboard
- To minimise the carbon emitted during food transportation (around 11% of the greenhouse emissions involved in food production are linked to food transportation)
Reuse and Recycle
- Reuse and recycle as much as you can.
- Glass jars and plastic containers make great storage options.
- Take your own shopping bags and say no to plastic bags.
- Take reusable produce bags for your fruit and vegetables – if you use the ethylene-absorbing bags it prolongs shelf-life too
Grow Your Own Food, Or Set Up Community Gardens
- Can reduce emissions by growing more naturally without the use of pesticides, fertilisers, transportation, packaging etc.
Average carbon footprint per person by country
- The global average carbon footprint in 2007 was around 5.7 tons CO2e/cap.
- The EU average for this time was about 13.8 tons CO2e/cap,
- The U.S., Luxembourg and Australia it was over 25 tons CO2e/cap.
- The footprints per capita of countries in Africa and India were well below average.
- To set this numbers into context, assuming a global population around 9-10 billion by 2050 a carbon footprint of about 2 – 2.5 tons CO2e per capita is needed to stay within a 2 °C target.
Other Stats On Carbon Footprints
- In the US, each household produces 48 tons of greenhouse gases.
- Food produces about 8 tons of emissions per household, or about 17% of the total.
- Worldwide, new reports suggest that livestock agriculture produces around a half of all man-made emissions.
- In the UK, the total impact on the climate breaks down like this: carbon dioxide (86%), methane (7%), nitrous oxide (6%) and refrigerant gases (1%).
- The dominant man-made greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted whenever we burn fossil fuels in homes, factories or power stations. But other greenhouse gases are also important. Methane (CH4), for example, which is emitted mainly by agriculture and landfill sites, is 25 times more potent per kilogram than CO2. Even more potent but emitted in smaller quantities are nitrous oxide (N2O), which is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and released mainly from industrial processes and farming, and refrigerant gases, which are typically several thousand times more potent than CO2.
- The average U.S. household pumps 49 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year
- But, actual carbon footprints depend on location. For example, electricity generation is relatively climate-friendly, so focusing on vehicular emissions has a greater impact
- The average family of 4 creates 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year
- Fossil Fuels – fossil fuels alone, the burning of which contributes around 30 billion tonnes of CO2e or 56.6% of our total global emissions
- Food – the food we buy can add up to 20% of our carbon footprint. And this is just at first glance, because if we count up the related damage of deforestation from big agriculture, this brings the impact up to 30%.
- On aggregate, the annual global emissions from texting, e-mailing (roughly 90 trillion e-mails in 2009) and ‘googling’ could be as high as 360 million tonnes.
- Add to that the 130 million tonnes of CO2e it takes to store the world’s data per year (web pages, databases, applications and downloads)
- Each Australian and American has an average footprint of almost 30 tonnes of CO2e per year
- The current global average (footprint per person) is more like 4-tonnes
- Trying to limit rising global temperatures to 1.5°C, means cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. This means that per person per year we would have to live a 3-tonne lifestyle.
Greenhouse Gas & Carbon Footprint Calculators
You can calculate carbon per kilowatt hour of electricity with:
You can calculate carbon per mile or kilometre of a standard vehicle, or other modes of transport with:
There’s also general guides on how to calculate the GHG emissions of products:
Otherwise, some online carbon calculators for household and lifestyle footprints can be found at:
Greenhouse Gases In Industries
The above guide is more so about the household level and us as consumers.
You can checkout this guide for information on greenhouse gas emissions in different industries.
An Interesting Note About Carbon Footprints
What is generally assumed about carbon footprints by many sources is that locally produced or grown products and services are better (or have a lower footprint).
This is not always the case.
The type of transport used to move a product matters – sea freight can be much more eco friendly than road freight in terms of emissions.
Just as one example, there can be less GHG emissions manufacturing in China and sea freighting to an Australian city port, rather than manufacturing in Australia and road freighting within Australia (whogivesacrap.org)
So, this goes to show that presumptions can’t be made, and each carbon footprint must be calculated individually, and specifically looking at each step of the entire process that sources, produces and delivers a product or service to market (and even the consumption and disposal or re-use stages if you want to go that far).