Your Carbon Footprint: How to Calculate and Reduce It
Carbon Dioxide is one of the biggest contributors to global warming and pollution. There is a lot that goes into the emissions of carbon dioxide. Automobiles, factories, fossil fuels, oil. Everyone is responsible for carbon emissions. Things you do throughout your day contribute to your carbon footprint. Reducing carbon emissions is not just a global responsibility. You can not just sit back and wait for our governments to reduce emissions for us. We have to get up and do something ourselves to reduce our carbon footprint. There are also tools available to everyone that can measure your exact carbon footprint so you can better handle the problem.
What is a Carbon Footprint
First of all, what does carbon footprint mean? The definition of a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Your carbon footprint is calculated as the sum of all carbon emissions created by your activities in a given time period. Usually, that time period is a year. For example, when you drive a car, the engine combusts fuel which creates a certain amount of carbon dioxide. When you heat your house in the winter, carbon dioxide is created from that energy use. Even when you buy food, the production of that food emits carbon dioxide.
Now no one is asking to you to completely stop all of those activities. However, there are greener ways to go about living your life that have little to no impact on the environment. These lifestyle changes involve using renewable energy, buying organic, driving more economic cars or electric cars. There are many ways that we will dive into later. To understand how to reduce your footprint, you first have to understand where these emissions are coming from.
Greenhouse Gas Sources
There are multiple sources that contribute to the overall emissions of greenhouse gases. The largest and main sources are electricity and heat production, industries, agriculture, and transportation.
Electricity and heat production contributed to 25% of the global emissions in 2010. This includes the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and oil, as well as natural gas. The burning of coal creates much more carbon dioxide emissions than that of natural gas or petroleum. Even though coal was responsible for 70% of the carbon emissions from the electricity sector, it only represented 34% of all of the electricity generated in the United States in 2015. 32% was generated by natural gas, and petroleum was only responsible for less than 1%.
In 2015, the electricity sector was responsible for the most emissions of greenhouse gases. It made up almost 29% of the total emissions in the United States. This is about a 4% increase since 1990 as we have become more and more dependent on fossil fuels.
The burning of fossil fuels at industrial facilities for energy is responsible for 21% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. This sector also includes emissions from chemicals, metallurgical, and mineral transformation processes that are not part of the energy consumption. As well as waste management services.
Industrial productions are split into two categories. Direct emissions and indirect emissions. The first type of emissions are greenhouse gases that are produced at the facility, while indirect emissions occur off site.
Emissions that are direct are produced by the burning of fuel for power or heat, through chemical reactions, and from leaks by the industrial processes or equipment. Most of these emissions come from fossil fuels, as does most emissions. Like electric, natural gas and petroleum make up a much smaller amount of the overall emissions. Around ⅓. In that ⅓ also includes chemical reactions during the production of chemicals, iron and steel and cement. Indirect emissions are produced by, of course, the burning of fossil fuels at a power plant to create electricity for the specific industry.
However, if the electric emissions were redistributed to where the electricity was actually used, things would be a little different. Industrial activities would actually be responsible for 29% of all emissions. While 33% of electricity emissions would go to homes and businesses.
24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions goes to agriculture. This is crop production, mass farming, and deforestation. Fossil fuels are mainly used to power machinery, as well as create artificial soil fertility. Also, the construction of these farms and the removal of trees from forests both contribute to the carbon emissions. However, there is an offset of about 20% due to the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by biomass, dead organic matter, soil and elemental cycles.
This is probably the most obvious contributor of our carbon footprint. Globally, transportation is responsible for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel in cars, trains, airplanes, and ships. Almost 95% of the global transportation energy comes from gasoline and diesel, which should come at no shock at all. In the United States, transportation makes up 27% of the emissions. The majority of these emissions consist of carbon dioxide. The bulk of these emissions come from passenger cars, light duty trucks, pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans. So basically all personal use vehicles.
Carbon Footprint Calculators
To better understand your personal footprint and how to reduce it, you have to know roughly how big your footprint is. Luckily, there are many ways online to calculate your carbon footprint. A good carbon calculator will give you tips on how you can minimize your footprint and many will give you the ability to calculate how to reduce it. However, these will only be estimates, not exact measurements. What you will need before you start is to know how much energy you use at your home or how many miles you drive every day. These calculators are available for personal and households as well as businesses.
Top 5 Calculators
- The Nature Conservancy- This calculator includes a few more sections. The sections include travel, home, food, and shopping. For each section it provides the average measurements depending on your household size and location. However, you can change the measurements if you know your exact amount. Once you fill in all of the sections, it will give you the measurement of tons of carbon dioxide per year. It also gives you a percentage of how much it is better than the average, if it is. At the very end, there is a page titled “Take Action”. Here you will find tips on how you can reduce your footprint.
- Conservation International- This is a fairly short calculator but you can redo it a few different ways. This calculator offers the choice at the beginning of if you want to calculate your carbon footprint for yourself, your household, for an event, or for a trip. For a household, it can get pretty customizable. You can select the type of house you live in if you use any renewable energy, even the household diet, which means they average your food and energy in one section. You can also select if you have an Energy Star appliance or have any other energy saving tricks in your home. For the other sections of transportation and travel, it offers the U.S. averages if you are not sure of your exact measurements. At the bottom of each section, it features facts of the specific topic. And on the right, you will find your annual emissions as well as the local annual emissions so you can see where you are with the rest of the people in your neighborhood or city. This one is nice if you want a quick and easy calculator as it is very condensed.
In-Depth Carbon Footprint Calculator
- EPA Household Emissions Calculator- The EPA carbon footprint calculator is a great, in-depth measurement system. It only takes about 20 minutes to complete. It covers everything from your home energy use to your waste. The calculator will ask for information regarding natural gas, electricity, fuel oil, and propane. You can measure it either in cost or amount. For your car, it will ask how many cars in the household, maintenance, and the fuel economy and average miles per year or week. Lastly, you can check what waste you already recycle. On each section, it also gives you a reduce your emissions calculator that tells you how much you will save by changing a few things. Once you have filled in everything, on the right of the screen it will show your current total, total after planned actions (your reduction) and the U.S. average depending on the size of your household.
- Carbon Footprint- This website has two different calculators you can use. One for individuals and one for small businesses which is pretty cool. The small business allows you add features like flight routes for business trips, any vehicles related with the business, as well as measuring all of your energy usage as the other calculators. The one just explained is the free version. There are two other versions you can choose from. They are the “Premium Small Business Version” and “Tailored Version.” The premium costs 75 pounds which is about $96. This version allows you to enter up to 50 flights and 25 vehicles and you can save 4 footprint sets for multiple years. The tailored version requires you to contact the company to ask about requirements but it allows you to measure for multiples buildings or sites, and add more flights, vehicles, extra tabs, and the option to track monthly. If you have a small business and are curious about how you can be more green, this is a cool idea. Personally, for most small businesses, the “Micro Business Version” would work fine.
Carbon Footprint Calculator for Kids
- Meet the Greens- This kid friendly calculator could be very useful in the classroom. It is called the Zerofootprint Youth Calculator. It features a fun setting that will appeal to most kids. Starting up, you can give yourself a nickname and fill out some personal information i.e. gender and birthday and school. Then in the form of small bubble points, it will ask you questions about travel, your food, your home, what you use, and your waste. All in a very kid friendly way, of course. It also asks stuff about the parents which will spark a conversation between kids and parents. All together while adding fun answers like Boat/canoe for a transportation to school, make it pretty cute and accessible for kids in the classroom.
How to Reduce
If you are worried about your personal contribution to carbon emissions, there are many things that you can do on your own to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of them you might find to be very simple or maybe things you already do. Wanna do a list? Yeah, people like lists. They’re simple and easy to read.
- Reduce energy. This is done by changing your light bulbs to LED or energy efficient lights. Install an Energy Star appliance, or a few. Unplug any appliance that is not used regularly.
- Reduce water. Whether it be by taking shorter showers, installing a low-flow shower head, or reducing the amount of water running when brushing your teeth or doing dishes; using less water will make a huge difference.
- Make the switch to renewable energy. Solar or wind power are very promising for powering your home. They also emit little to no carbon dioxide.
- Buy local and organic. A lot of greenhouse gases are emitted from factory farms. By buying organic and from local markets, you are reducing our dependance on those farms.
- Recycle. Recycle everything. Plastic, paper, metal, glass.
- Compost your food waste.
- Green transportation. Either buy a car with a better fuel economy or a hybrid/electric car. If you really want to cut down on your emissions, start walking or riding a bike.
Carbon dioxide emissions are the main contributor to climate change. There are many things that factor into how much carbon is emitted all over the world. Best thing you can do at home is figure out just how much your footprint is and find ways to reduce it. Global warming begins and ends with you. We started this whole mess, we can help to end it.