Carbon footprint: Calculate, reduce and act for climate change
Every individual leaves a carbon footprint on the planet no matter what their lifestyle (energy consumption, activities carried out, etc). Learning how to calculate carbon footprint is the first step in reducing the negative impact generated by each person and goes a long way to help our collective efforts in tackling climate change.
By calculating your personal carbon footprint with Selectra: Identify the main sources of your greenhouse gas emissions;
Receive a guide with practical advice on how to reduce your carbon footprint;
Finance an environmental project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
What is carbon footprint?
Carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted directly or indirectly by a person, product, company or organisation.
Carbon footprint is expressed as a weight of CO2 emissions produced in tonnes.
The carbon footprint definition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘a measure of the impact your activities have on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through the burning of fossil fuels and is expressed as a weight of CO2 emissions produced in tonnes.’
Your personal carbon footprint
The Personal Carbon Footprint aims to measure the environmental impact of an individual's activities. Its calculation allows you to reduce or optimise your energy efficiency and change your consumption habits to minimise its impact on the planet.
The average Brit emits around 7.01 tons of CO2eq into the atmosphere per year.
To calculate your annual personal carbon footprint, there are a number of factors to be taken into consideration:
- Transport: daily journeys (car, bus, metro or bicycle) and more exceptional trips, for example by plane or train.
- House and energy: the type of dwelling (house, apartment), its surface area, the number of inhabitants, the electrical appliances used, the energy consumption generated, the type of heating used, etc.
- Consumption and lifestyle: food, waste management, etc.
The carbon footprint of companies
The carbon footprint of a company or organisation refers to the impact of a company's activities on the environment. The greenhouse gas emissions of a company must be measured taking into account the direct or indirect effect generated by the development of its economic activity.
Every year, more efforts are being made in the UK to encourage companies to lead the way on climate action and become carbon neutral. According to a YouGov poll, almost half (46%) of companies said they have plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. These include some of the largest businesses in the UK including SKY, Microsoft, Marks and Spencer, and Google.
Interestingly, almost one in ten (8%) revealed they are making a large contribution to tackling the issue of global warming and are already carbon neutral.
The carbon footprint of a product
The carbon footprint of a product or service includes all direct and indirect emissions produced throughout its life cycle, from the extraction of the primary material to the stage of use. The various stages of the life cycle include:
- Extraction and transportation of raw materials
- Elaboration process
- Product distribution
- Product use
- End of its useful life
For example, the carbon footprint of a car, even if it is electric, is never zero.
It must be taken into account that the carbon footprint of an object in a globalised market is not usually limited to a single country.
The ecological footprint
The ecological footprint is a measure of the pressure an individual exerts on the planet. It is measured in global hectares and is used to calculate the land surface needed by individuals to meet their needs. It is different from the carbon footprint which is used to assess the impact of human activities on the environment (in CO2 equivalent).
How to calculate the carbon footprint?
Calculating the carbon footprint makes it possible to identify the sources of co2 emissions and establish measures to reduce it.
The carbon footprint calculator
When calculating the carbon footprint, different factors must be taken into account such as:
- Direct emissions: are the greenhouse gases that are controlled by the person (fuel consumption of their vehicles, fossil fuels consumed by home heating systems).
- Indirect emissions: are consequences of the activities of the person (manufacture of goods and services consumed by households).
The main greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by human activity are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), water vapor (H2O), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).
Greenhouse effect definitionThe greenhouse effect is the main cause of global warming. It is a phenomenon caused due to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases (GHG), naturally present in the atmosphere, absorb a part of the sun's rays and then redistribute them in the form of radiation, thus creating the greenhouse effect.
There are different free carbon footprint calculators available for you to use. They allow you to calculate your carbon emissions quickly and easily. Some examples include:
- Selectra's Carbon Footprint Calculator provides an assessment of a person's annual greenhouse gas emissions by calculating the carbon footprint in kg of CO2 per year based on transportation use, energy consumption and Lifestyle.
- The Carbon Footprint calculator that calculates the footprint of the aspect of the lifestyle that most interests the user or their total carbon footprint.
- The WWF carbon footprint calculator takes into account a number of factors such as eating habits (how much meat is consumed in the household, how much is spent each week on eating out), recylcing habits, travel (both day-to-day trips to work for example as well as holiday travel) and household energy.
How to reduce carbon footprint?
While there is still a long way to go still to meet climate targets, each of us can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprint. Some measures to take into consideration include:
- Avoid polluting car journeys and choose to walk, cycle or use public transport.
- If you are driving, share the ride with others and don’t speed as it uses more petrol and as a result, emits more CO2.
- Avoid flying if possible as it is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of CO2 emissions. If you do have to fly, think about offsetting your emissions.
- Reduce the number of animal products you consume.
- Eat locally sourced and produced food: short trips mean less pollution from transportation.
- Recycle or compost organic waste.
- Use the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full
- Boil only the water you will need and cover your pots while you cook.
- Collect the cold water from the first seconds of your shower to water your garden or plants
- Reduce what you need; reuse it as many times as you can, re-purpose if you’re not using it anymore and recycle it when it reaches the end of its life cycle.
- Reusing your shopping bags rather than asking for new ones in the store.
- Choose products with little packaging: this ultimately cuts down production costs.
- Be mindful of the temperature of your house: just 1ºC less can reduce emissions (and your energy bill) by 5-10%.
- Programme your energy devices so that they’re on only while you're at home.
- Mind the settings you choose: maybe your fridge doesn’t have to be in the coolest setting and your water cylinder thermostat doesn’t have to be set higher than 50ºC.
- Unplug your mobile phone charger. It still drains electricity even when it is not connected to the phone.
- Switch off the lights when you don’t need them and use energy-saving lights such as LED.
How do you offset your carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions?
Carbon offsetting is a means of reducing your environmental impact, taking into account the overall emissions across the planet, and not just your individual emissions. Obviously, this approach only makes sense for an individual after they have established actions to reduce their own CO2 emissions.
In addition to helping combat climate change, offsetting CO2 emissions allows you the opportunity to think about a change to renewable energy.
Action to reduce the carbon footprint
After trying to reduce your own carbon footprint as much as possible, some greenhouse gas emissions persist in the atmosphere. Carbon offsetting makes it possible to take action and finance projects to reduce emissions or sequester carbon, that is, projects that absorb carbon dioxide, such as reforestation projects.
India has one of the largest populations in the world, and, as a developing nation, is the third most polluting in the world. Selectra launched the Ghandi project to be able to make an immediate difference, with every pound invested making a direct contribution to environment projects that help India, and the planet at large. Some of the highlights so far include:
- Building 21 wind turbines
- Offsetting 33,000 tonnes of CO2 per year
- Creating a more stable electricity network
Selectra can help you raise awareness of global warming by financing the Gandhi project.
Discover the Carbon Offset Gift Card!
Climate change and the carbon footprint
Measuring our carbon footprint is essential to identify the sources that produce CO2 emissions and put in place measures needed to reduce them. Adapting our lifestyles and thinking more about our actions can have a big impact on global warming and reducing or limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is a global challenge that has no borders. Individuals, companies and governments have to participate in the fight against global warming and implement measures to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement - avoiding global warming of more than 2°C per year above pre-industrial levels.