Some of the world’s leading topics in our time tend to be around climate change. Global warming is slowly becoming a problem that we can’t ignore. The primary role in the current situation belongs to the greenhouse gas emissions and there is a need to define their rates. This is where carbon footprint enters the stage.
What Is a Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint is a total greenhouse gas emission generated by an organization, individual, product or event, and it’s expressed as CDE. CDE stands for Carbon Dioxide Equivalent and it represents an estimation of how much global warming a certain amount and type of greenhouse gas may cause. This measurement uses a proportionate amount of carbon dioxide as a reference.
Most notable carbon-containing greenhouse gases are CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane). They can be emitted through manufacturing processes, by burning fossil fuels or with consumption and production of food and products.
In most cases, the precise carbon footprint can’t be determined because we don’t have adequate knowledge about all the interacting processes. Natural mechanisms that store or release carbon dioxide are especially hard to calculate.
Try the Carbon Footprint Calculator at the bottom of page.
The carbon footprint originates from the concept of ecological footprints. This concept was developed during the 1990s and, while the carbon footprint is measured in tons of yearly CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions, ecological footprints take into account our planet’s capabilities to renew its reserves.
When calculating your ecological footprint, you will determine the number of Earths that would be required to support their population if everyone consumed resources as much as you do. Carbon footprints, on the other hand, just deal with measuring the emissions of that change the climate.
What Are the Examples of a Carbon Footprint?
Carbon emissions can be summarized with 3 different “scopes”. Scope 1 and scope 2 represent direct carbon emissions, while indirect emissions fall under scope 3.
Scope 1 emissions are produced directly from the location of the process or service. This would refer to the industry that uses fossil fuel for power. Examples of this are emissions from furnaces or gas boilers.
On an individual’s level, gas burning stoves and personal vehicles would fall under this scope. Also, emissions from biomass are reported separately and don’t fall under scope 1.
Scope 2 is related to electricity, steam or heat that is purchased by companies. These emissions take place at the facilities where electricity is generated during the production of energy. Power plants are the most prevalent in this category.
Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions from the activities of one organization. The sources that are not controlled or owned by the companies are responsible for these emissions. These sources can be either upstream or downstream from the process that is being studied.
An example of an upstream process would any energy or waste spent outside of the production site. The transport of materials or fuels is also included in this category. Downstream processes refer to waste and product transportation as well as emissions that are connected to the selling of the product.
Average person’s carbon footprint can wary depending on their country. For example, an average American has a footprint that is nearly 20 tons of CO2e, Canadians are around 15 tons, while an average Indian emits only 1 ton. The global average in 2010 was 5 tons CO2e.
Food consumption is a big factor when making these measurements. If the population is wealthier, people usually eat more meat and processed products. These foods need high carbon dioxide emissions to be produced. Richer countries also tend to waste more food.
Greenhouse gas emissions per 1 kg (around 2.2 pounds) of food can vary. Beef is the most ”expensive” to make, with an astonishing 60 kilograms of CO2e per 1 kg of meat produced. This is due to the high methane emission that comes from cows and land conversion to feed the animals. As a comparison, 1 kg of apples makes 0.4 kilograms of CO2e.
Travelling is also a huge source of carbon emissions. People’s carbon footprint will grow very quickly when they tend to travel a lot. For every 3000 miles (4,820 kilometers) of driving in your average car, you will produce a ton of CO2e. Eight hours of flying in an economy class will also add a ton to your footprint. More information on this topic can be found here.
Housing emissions also provide an interesting example of carbon footprints. A larger footprint usually means the housing emissions are bigger, but this effect is far less predictable when compared to food consumption.
Wealthier people don’t necessarily have larger emissions as carbon production varies depending on the country’s electricity sources. If almost all electricity comes from the coal power plants, it doesn’t matter if the housing the person is living in is smaller nor has fewer gadgets.
Effects of Carbon Footprint
When it’s large, a carbon footprint has a very negative impact on the environment. The most devastating effects of this are climate change and the depletion of Earth’s resources.
By now, climate change has managed to find its way to the focus of the media. It represents one of the most concerning trends in modern society, with possible outcomes that could even destroy the human race. But what is the relationship between global warming and carbon footprints?
The attributes of greenhouse gases make them trap Sun’s heat in our planet’s atmosphere. If the amount of these gases in the atmosphere increases, this effect becomes stronger.
This process is also known as the greenhouse effect. In usual circumstances, this helps Earth stay warm and makes it a comfortable place to live. But, when the greenhouse gases accumulate, this effect can become deadly as the atmosphere becomes too warm.
One of the consequences of this is the increase in the average yearly temperature. Ice caps are starting to melt because of this, and the average sea level is slowly going up.
The period from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest decade ever recorded. This isn’t surprising, as the carbon level emissions increased by 31 percent from 1990 to 2005. The world could be in a lot of trouble if its carbon footprint keeps increasing.
Another negative effect of this trend is the depleting of the planet’s resources. This process is happening on a lot of different scales. For example, it can go from the county’s deforestation policies to increased food intake by one individual.
Climate change is closely related to this as parties that use heaps of resources also produce a huge amount of greenhouse gases. Underdeveloped countries have even more problems as they usually experience the consequences of global warming without having the ability to fight them.
Carbon Footprint Reduction
If large carbon footprints are so detrimental to the environment, then how can we reduce them? For individuals, there are a couple of options. People can choose to live car-free as this would decrease their footprint by 2.4 tons of CO2e per year.
Alternatives to driving can be walking, biking, using mass transportation or carpooling. Avoiding air travel can also help as one trans-Atlantic trip ”costs” 1.6 tons of CO2e.
For people who are devoted, there is also the option to change your diet to vegetables. It’s estimated that this lowers your carbon footprint by 0.8 tons per year. This measure doesn’t have to be so drastic, though, as you can just decrease your meat intake. Your footprint will be smaller and you will be healthier.
Reusing is also an important factor in lowering carbon dioxide emissions. For example, you can buy reusable plastic bottles for water or a thermos for coffee instead of using disposable cups.
If you don’t have this option, it’s best to try to recycle the expendable items as much as you can. A household that recycles half of its waste can reduce its carbon emission by 1.4 tons. Using less heating and air conditioning can also be a huge contribution.
Companies can also be a huge factor in reducing large carbon footprints. One of the ways an office can decrease their carbon dioxide emission by using digital files and signatures instead of paper ones.
Filling cabinets can be easily replaced by digital databases. Sending emails and using scanning applications can also cover the need for a scanner machine or fax.
Allowing your employees to work from home is also a good way to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. By doing this workers won’t have to use fuel to come to work.
Organizing carpooling is also an alternative. Staff members that live close to each other can travel to work together. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as traffic jams, as there will be fewer cars on the road.
Sustainable energy sources are also a great way to reduce carbon footprints. Solar and wind energy doesn’t emit any carbon when producing energy and it’s one hundred percent clean.
The only emissions are made during the production process of the solar panels and wind turbines. Renewable energy is getting more popular but it’s still very underused. By increasing its percentage in the total electricity production we would largely decrease the industry’s carbon footprint.