Definition of Carbon Footprint

What Is a Carbon Footprint?


A carbon footprint is a calculation of the total amount of greenhouse gases you produce in a given time frame (usually over the course of the year) expressed in the equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). In a nutshell, the carbon footprint calculation helps us measure how many greenhouse gasses you produce relative to others in a given timeframe. Each of us, even the greenest of us, emits greenhouse gases throughout the day, whether it’s through the food we eat, the transportation we use, the house we live in, or the work we do.

An accurate calculation of your carbon footprint will take as many factors into consideration as possible. Activities that contribute to your carbon dioxide emissions include:

  • Daily transportation: Do you take public transit or drive a car and what is the distance between your home and work? Do you walk, cycle, run, or rollerblade to work? Do you group errands together? If you own a vehicle, is it fuel-efficient?
  • Travel: Do you travel often by plane, train or bus? Or take long distance road trips? Do you stay in carbon-intensive hotels?
  • Food choices: Do you eat locally grown foods that have traveled as few miles as possible or do you choose imported foods shipped to the grocery store from far away? Do you select organic over conventional foods? Do you limit your consumption of meat and dairy? Do you grow your own produce?
  • Consumption: Do you choose energy efficient consumer products and appliances? Do you buy secondhand goods? Do you look for products made from recycled materials or locally produced materials?
  • Waste management: Do you recycle? Do you compost your organic waste? Do you limit the packaging you consume? Carry reusable bags to the grocery store?
  • Household energy: Do you use energy efficient lighting? Do you heat and cool your home with minimal energy? Have you improved your home’s energy efficiency through the addition of insulation, efficient windows and doors, sealing air leaks, and so on? Do you turn lights off as you leave the room and minimize your consumption of hot water?
  • Renewable energy: Do you have solar panels, wind turbines, or microhydro systems for your home? Have you considered installing a geothermal system for heating, cooling, and energy production? 

Taking all of these factors (and more!) into consideration will allow you to estimate the size of your carbon footprint. With this knowledge, you will know how your habits stack up against other people and be able to start working on shrinking your carbon footprint to a more sustainable size.

Carbon Footprint Articles


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