What are carbon footprints?
Carbon footprints are quite simply a measure of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) over the course of a year. These emissions come from things like burning petrol or diesel in our cars and trucks, using electricity made in coal or gas fired power stations and using gas, oil or coal to heat our buildings.
A carbon footprint can be calculated for almost anything, for example, a country, a building, an organisation, a household or an individual. Calculating a carbon footprint is often the first step in attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. By knowing what your baseline is, you are well equipped to plan out how to reduce it.
The size of our feet
Domestic CO2 emissions make up about 40%, of the UK total. The size of household carbon footprints can vary greatly, however. While the average is about 10 tonnes, the highest emitting households produce 60% more carbon than the lowest. This variation is caused by lifestyle and technology choices. The decisions we make can also influence emissions from transport and industrial activities.
Curtains – thick and closed at dusk or thin and left open?
Winter clothing– many layers or t-shirt and extra heating?
Boiler – condensing or ancient?
Heating controls – on a timer or on all the time?
Fuel used – gas or oil? Wood or gas?
Hot water – solar panels or electric/gas?
Home location – close to work or long commute?
Travel to work – public transport/bike or car journey?
Shopping trips – weekly big shop or many short shops
Type of car – electric hybrid or gas guzzler?
Household waste – recycle or landfill?
Kitchen waste – compost or landfill?
Packaging – buy things with less packaging or with lots of packaging?
Origin - local or abroad?
Farming method - organic or industrial?
Shopping method - locally or out of town?
Packaging - fresh unpackaged food or pre-packed meals and snacks?
Keeping track of footprint changes
In order to keep track of how household actions are affecting your carbon footprint, the easiest method is to use a carbon footprinting tool.
These come in either paper format or as interactive online web tools (see ‘Further Information’). By answering a few simple questions, households or individuals can find out where their CO2 emissions are coming from and what level they’re at.
As different lifestyle choices are made in order to shrink your carbon footprint, the changes can be tracked simply by using the footprint tool again and making a note of the difference.
It is important to note that all footprinting tools can only give an estimate of a carbon footprint. Measuring them precisely would be an incredibly complex task and for most purposes is certainly not necessary.
The global target footprint per person is:
1.85 tonnes by 2050
Many countries still have a long way to go:
UK footprint per person = 10.9 tonnes
USA footprint per person = 19.9 tonnes
France footprint per person= 6.2 tonnes
China footprint per person = 4.6 tonnes
India footprint per person = 1.3 tonnes
Online carbon footprinting tools: Act on CO2
The government’s carbon footprinter: www.dft.gov.uk/ActOnCO2/
Carbon Control - A website designed for children: www.carboncontrol.org.uk/default.aspa
Carbon Counter, Collins Gem
Carbon Calculator, Mark Lynas
How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, Joanna Yarrow
Information from Marches Energy Agency updated June 2010: www.mea.org.uk