Your carbon footprint is the mark you leave on the Earth in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. We can define a carbon footprint as the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by a person, a community, or an activity. Carbon footprints are usually determined based on greenhouse gas emissions throughout a whole year.
Citizens of the United States have one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. An average American has a carbon footprint of 16 tons. By contrast, an average person in India generates a carbon footprint of only 0.56 tons. The average carbon footprint is close to 4 tons on a global scale. Researchers and experts have predicted a 2oC rise in global temperatures by 2100. To have the best chance of avoiding this temperature rise, global carbon footprints need to drop to 2 tons by 2050.
Measuring Carbon Footprint
At this point, you must be curious to know if there’s a way for you to calculate your carbon footprint. Good news; there is! And it’s simple and easy. But before we calculate carbon footprints, let’s first understand the processes that generate carbon footprints in the first place.
Everything from the modes of transportation you frequently use to the type of food you eat contributes to your carbon footprint. But some activities contribute less to your carbon footprint than others. For example, walking generates a much less footprint than driving a car. Getting groceries or products delivered to your home would contribute to a higher carbon footprint than going to the shop to buy them yourself.
There are many, many, many calculators on the internet that allow you to calculate your carbon footprint. These calculators take into account every lifestyle choice you’ve made over time; your diet, energy consumption, preferred mode of transportation, waste generation, etc. A calculator will consider every aspect of your lifestyle and determine the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each activity. The calculator will then convert the impact of each greenhouse gas into the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming. Once the calculator has converted each greenhouse gas into an equivalent amount of CO2, it adds up the emissions of all the activities and gives you the sum total of carbon emissions.
If you want to calculate your carbon footprint by yourself, however, follow these steps:
1. Your monthly electricity bill X 105
2. Your monthly gas bill X 105
3. Your monthly oil bill X 115
4. Your yearly car mileage X 0.79
5. The number of flights you’ve taken in the past year (4 hours or less) X 1,000
6. The number of flights you’ve taken in the past year (4 hours or more) X 4,400
7. If you do not recycle newspaper, add 184
8. If you do not recycle metal, add 166
Add the values from steps 1-8 together to determine your carbon footprint.
You have an ideal carbon footprint if your carbon footprint falls anywhere between 6,000 and 15,999. Footprints ranging from 16,000 to 22,000 are average. If your footprint is below 6,000, way to go! Your carbon footprint is very low, which means your impact on the Earth is minimal. Footprint over 22,000? You might want to consider incorporating some sustainable practices in your lifestyle or purchasing carbon offsets.
Carbon Footprint of Geographical Areas
In 2020, the world’s highest emitter of carbon dioxide was the Asia Pacific region, with a little over 16.75 billion metric tons of CO2. China alone accounted for 60% of the Asia Pacific emissions. Following the Asia Pacific was North America, with around 5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions. The third most polluting region in 2020 was Europe; 3.6 billion metric tons of CO2. This was followed by the Middle East, Africa, and South and Central America, with CO2 emissions of 2, 1.2, and 1.1 billion metric tons. Compared to carbon emission levels in 2019, Europe and North America’s emissions fell by almost 12% in 2020. Similarly, emissions from regions in the Asia Pacific fell by 2.5%.
95% of all human activities such as energy generation and transportation use fossil fuels. When burned, fossil fuels release greenhouse gases which contribute to a warming climate by trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Human activities have been responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.
The primary sources of CO2 emissions are:
The sector that contributes the most to greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. We burn fossil fuels to run cars, railways, ships, and planes.
Electricity generation occurs through the burning of mostly coal and natural gas. Electricity generation is the second most polluting activity with regards to CO2 emissions. It constitutes around 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The chemical reactions that convert raw material into goods emit greenhouse gases. Apart from that, even burning fossil fuels to power the industries leads to CO2 emissions.
4. Commercial and Residential
These include emissions from businesses and homes. The handling of wastes, the consumption of energy, and the use of certain products are some activities that contribute to your carbon footprint.
Agriculture constitutes about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock, soil, crop production, and the use of fertilizers lead to the emission of CO2.
6. Land Use and Forests
Based on what the land is used for, it can either act as a carbon sink or a source of CO2 emissions.
Carbon Footprint Standards (Scope 1, 2, 3)
To help companies and businesses calculate and track their carbon footprint, the India GreenHouse Gas Program (India GHG Program) has established three ‘scopes’. These scopes aid companies in reporting and reducing their CO2 emissions. The scopes are:
Scope 1: Direct GHG Emissions
These are emissions from sources that a business or company directly controls. For example, emissions from vehicles owned by the company, air conditioners, and heaters on company property, the manufacture of company products, etc.
Scope 2: Indirect Emissions from Electricity
The GHG Program defines Scope 2 as the release of greenhouse gases from the production and generation of electricity that the company consumes. These emissions are not released within the physical boundary of the company but occur at electricity generation plants.
Scope 3: Other Indirect GHG Emissions
These emissions are from sources associated with the company but not directly owned or controlled by it. For example, emissions from the transport of purchased and supplied products, the transport of employees, waste disposal, etc.
A company must choose 12 months for which it can collect data from various activities belonging to the three scopes. Examples of measurements that can be recorded and reported include electricity use, fuel used by company vehicles, fuel from employee transportation, water supply, and waste generated or recycled.
The company can make reasonable estimates for data that may be difficult to obtain (such as scope 3: other indirect emissions).
To calculate the greenhouse gases emitted from activities associated with the business, the data (or measurements) recorded from activities must be converted to kg of CO2 per year using an ’emission factor’.
An emission factor is a value relating the release of a quantity of a pollutant with the activity causing the release of that pollutant.
You can find recently updated emission factors on the official website of the GreenHouse Gas Protocol. You can also find the emission factors on the India GHG Program website.
You can then calculate the carbon footprint of your company using the formula:
Activity Data X Emission Factor = Carbon Emissions
A company’s carbon footprint would be the sum of emissions from each activity.
Companies and governments can use this information to monitor their emissions and set realistic targets for the future. They can also adapt or create new models to reduce their carbon footprint. Wherever applicable, they can make the switch to renewable forms of energy.
Companies and organizations use reporting frameworks to disclose their carbon footprint to investors, stakeholders, and national governments. Reporting frameworks help companies incorporate sustainable practices into their services. They also help companies minimize their environmental impacts and improve existing marketing methods. The common carbon reporting frameworks are:
The idea behind the establishment of CDP was to get companies to disclose their environmental impacts honestly. CDP is one of the most widely used frameworks, with over 9,600 companies worldwide using it to report their carbon emissions.
The CDP’s reporting process prompts companies to supply information on their greenhouse gas emissions. The program then takes this information and scores the company based on its environmental transparency. Companies can use these scores to set an environmental benchmark for themselves. CDP, however, lets companies report only on environmental impacts like carbon emissions, water usage, and deforestation. If companies would like to report on social impacts, they would have to use another reporting framework.
2. Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB)
The World Economic Forum in 2007 founded the CDSB. Like the CDP, CDSB too emphasizes the reporting of environmental impacts. However, there are some differences. CDP provides companies with a structure by which CDP collects data from the company and then reports on it. CDSB, on the other hand, encourages companies to integrate disclosure about their environmental impacts into annual financial reports. Through this, CDSB aims to promote corporate strategy based on sustainability.
3. Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
GRI was the world’s first framework for environmental and sustainability reporting. Launched in 1997, it was developed by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies and the United Nations Environmental Programme. The Exxon Valdez oil spill is what triggered the development of this framework.
Today, 80% of the world’s largest corporations use GRI for their sustainability reporting.
GRI is a flexible framework. It is continuously evolving. Currently, GRI is improving its framework to incorporate human rights reporting. GRI is so popular because it lets companies choose from several standards to prepare reports for specific activities, purposes, or users. For example, companies can prepare a report specifically to be presented to an investor.
The aim behind the development of IRF was to make a company’s sustainability report available to insurers, lenders, and investors, i.e., to make the company’s value known to financial capital providers. IRF takes into equal consideration environmental, social, and governance aspects. It also provides key elements which companies can include in their business models, performance, resource consumption, management, and reports.
SASB is a set of 77 industry standards. Companies use these standards to disclose sustainability information to investors.
What sets SASB apart from other reporting frameworks is its unique metrics and standards set aside for each industry, such as oil and gas, transportation, etc. This makes it extremely easy for an organization struggling to understand which metrics they need to report in their carbon footprint. SASB focuses on sustainability impacts from a financial perspective.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.