Carbon Footprints Explained


Carbon footprints measure the amount of carbon dioxide produced by activities of daily living. These include direct activities such as burning fuel when driving a car, or using electricity when heating your home. They also include more indirect activities such as eating and sleeping. Both people and organizations have a carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprints Measure Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Carbon dioxide is known as a greenhouse gas. Most scientists say that the excess production of greenhouse gases is a major cause of global warming. Routine activities of daily living produce greenhouse gases. A carbon footprint is a measure of total greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, measuring a person’s carbon footprint is an indirect way of measuring how that person’s various daily activities affect global warming,

Carbon Dioxide Equivalents

Carbon dioxide is not the only gas that appears to damage the environment. Other greenhouse gases include methane and ozone. When measuring carbon footprints, the release of all gases thought to harm the environment are taken into consideration. The emissions of these other gases are mathematically converted into equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide. This is known as the “equivalent carbon dioxide” amount.

The unit of measurement of a carbon footprint is tonnes or kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Primary Footprints

Primary carbon footprints are a measure of activities that directly produce carbon dioxide. Examples include using a car, air-conditioning homes and heating recreational pools. We can make changes that reduce carbon emissions from these activities, for example, by walking instead of driving.

Secondary Footprints

Secondary footprints measure indirect production of carbon dioxide. Eating a salad is an example of an indirect activity. Transportation, fertilizers, electricity for refrigeration at the grocery store: All produce some carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalents. Although locally grown vegetables produce less carbon dioxide equivalents than produce grown elsewhere and shipped in, carbon dioxide was still produced. Carbon dioxide is produced when anything is made and then ultimately purchased by the consumer.

Reducing Emissions

Individuals can reduce the size of their carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon dioxide equivalents produced per day, by standard energy-saving tips . Decreasing energy use, for example, turning off lights and appliances when not in use, turning down central heat and air-conditioning units, and lowering the setting on the water heater by one or two degrees, can significantly decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

Switching to a green energy supply, getting electricity from renewable sources such as wind or sun, can decrease a person’s carbon footprint.