What is a carbon footprint?
The term ‘carbon footprint’ is used a lot, however, do you know what it actually means?
A carbon footprint can be described as the amount of carbon dioxide a particular individual, organisation, or community releases into the atmosphere due to their activities.
While the definition effectively explains what it is, it doesn’t mention why it is important.
Why should we care about our carbon footprint?
Climate change requires global action, we all need to play a role in reducing our impact on the planet. One of the easiest ways to do this is considering your daily carbon emissions and reducing your carbon footprint. Nearly all our daily activities release some amount of carbon into the atmosphere. However, the volume of carbon released depends on a variety of factors. Therefore, we have the power to increase or decrease our footprints based on our everyday choices. In 2016, the average carbon footprint of each person in the UK was recorded as 6.03 tonnes per year. However, depending on people’s lifestyles, this number drastically varies.
For example, food has a carbon footprint attached to it. Local food has a smaller carbon footprint because it has not had to travel so far, and the resources to grow, harvest, and package it may be less. The carbon footprint of the food item is then further increased as you use energy to cook it. Carbon footprints are, therefore, an efficient way of monitoring our impact on the planet and ensuring we are on track to minimising our influence.
Our footprints impact on the planet
The Earth’s temperature depends on a balance between incoming energy from the sun and energy that bounces back into space. Carbon dioxide, released through our activities, absorbs heat that would otherwise bounce back and be lost in space. Some of this energy is re-emitted back to Earth, causing the planet to get hotter. Therefore, the size of your carbon footprint impacts the amount of energy re-emitted, contributing to global warming, and in turn, climate change.
Carbon dioxide is not the only gas warming our planet, other greenhouse gases make up your overall footprint. Methane (CH4) molecules do not exist in our atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide molecules, however, they are more effective at warming the planet. Accounting for approximately 20% of total emissions, studies estimate that methane accounts for over a third of current human-caused global warming. Methane is emitted into the atmosphere from various sources, aside from the common source of cattle grazing, landfill gas, the extraction of fossil fuels, and the melting permafrost are also responsible.
Nitrous oxide (NO2) and fluorinated gases (F-gases) are also significant greenhouse gases. The impact of 1 pound of nitrous oxide on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide, while fluorinated gases have a global warming effect up to 23,000 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Calculating a carbon footprint
For efficient footprint calculations, a universal unit needs to be used across all figures. Therefore, greenhouse gases are normalised to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) based on the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of a particular gas emitted over 100 years. The CO2e of key greenhouse gases emitted is used to calculate your footprint.
The carbon footprint of a business is created by the employees and the company itself, including the office space, corporate travel, and numerous other factors. At Climate Wise, we offer a consultancy service whereby we can calculate the footprint of your business. We use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an internationally accepted greenhouse gas accounting and reporting standard. We evaluate the necessary aspects of your business and account and report the CO2e of the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
We then take it a step further and provide reduction recommendations based on your Corporate Carbon Footprint and offer an offsetting solution to carbon offset your unavoidable footprint.
Benefits to business
Calculating and reporting your footprint allows greenhouse gas risks to be managed and reduction opportunities to be identified. As a business, you will be recognised as participating in this scheme and taking responsibility in the current climate crisis. Additionally, you can take voluntary action to reduce your footprint and demonstrate commitment to alleviating the impacts of climate change and global warming.
If you want to learn more about the Climate Positive Solutions of our 3-stage approach and calculate your company’s footprint, please follow this link: https://climate-wise.com/business/.
If you’re not a business and still want to calculate your footprint, use the WWF carbon footprint calculator on our home page: https://climate-wise.com/.