Understanding Your Carbon Footprint

Want to better understand your carbon footprint and how it is calculated? From transport emissions to diet, we break it all down for you here.
September 26, 2021

Want to better understand your carbon footprint and how it is calculated? From transport emissions to diet, we break it all down for you here.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is a commonly used way to express the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere from any given activity.  Increased levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are directly linked to rising global temperatures and climate change.  

The “carbon footprint” gets its name from Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - the most commonly emitted greenhouse gas - but also includes others such as methane and nitrous oxide calculated into a carbon equivalent. 

Essentially, a carbon footprint is a calculation to help understand the environmental cost of different human activity. It can be used to express the impact of a single activity, or to understand the cumulative impact of an individual, company, industry, or even product.

Why is it important to understand your carbon footprint? 

It is important to consider your carbon footprint, and what contributes to it, so we can better understand the environmental impact of our daily lives. Once we have a better understanding of how we contribute to rising global temperatures, we can begin work to actively reduce our emissions.

However, calculating a carbon footprint is not always a perfect science and many calculations rely on averages and datasets as opposed to precise measurements. Despite these limitations, carbon footprints offer a useful tool to better understand our environmental impact, and how we can mitigate it. 

To Calculate Your Carbon Footprint Consider These Four Key Areas:

1. Travel & Transport

Globally, transport accounts for roughly a quarter of CO2 emissions. For individuals, transportation can also be a significant contributor to your personal carbon footprint. This can include how you commute to work and get around, as well as any leisure travel. Walking or using public transportation will contribute less emissions than driving, just as driving or taking the train for a holiday will result in less emissions than air travel. For instance, taking the train from London to Madrid emits 270% less CO2 emissions than travelling economy by plane.

2. Diet

Diet is an often overlooked contributor to one’s carbon footprint, but the environmental impact of our food choices are huge.  Meat consumption - specifically beef - has a much higher carbon footprint compared to a vegetarian diet, however it’s not just meat v. plant-based that we should consider.  Imported foods, processed foods, and packaged foods will have a significantly higher impact than their counterparts (local, whole, package-free) . In addition to diet, we can’t ignore food waste! Global food loss and waste represents nearly 8% of global GHG emissions.   The UN suggests that if food waste was calculated as a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the U.S.  So ultimately it’s not just what we eat, it’s how we source and consume it too. 

3. Home

Various factors of your home contribute to your carbon footprint. For instance the type of home, its size, fuel source, number of people who live there, or even the temperature of the thermostat. Using renewable fuel sources or green tariffs can greatly reduce your carbon footprint, while implementing measures like insulation, double-glazing, and energy efficient lighting can significantly reduce the energy consumption of your household. Lighting can account for up to 15% of your electricity bill, so remembering to turn off appliances when not in use can actively reduce your carbon footprint too!

4. Consumption

This makes sense.  The more things we buy (think: electronics, clothing, beauty products, personal hygiene, appliances, homewares) the more environmental impact we have.  In general, global consumption operates on a linear model of “take, make, dispose”.  Switching to a more circular economy of reducing, recycling and reusing can significantly reduce the impact of our consumption.  Therefore choosing to buy second hand, or remembering to recycle can be active tools to reduce your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

Now that we understand the main areas that contribute to our carbon footprint, we can start to address and change our behaviour. To calculate your own carbon footprint, take this quiz by the World Wildlife Fund. You can also find your home country’s average carbon footprint (CO2 emissions by metric tons per capita) by exploring this resource by the World Bank (ex. The average carbon footprint in the USA is 16.5 metric tonnes while in the UK it is 6.5 metric tonnes). Once you know your footprint, you can start working to reduce it, and together we can all contribute to fighting climate change. 

Offsetting your carbon footprint

While we can - and must! - work towards reducing our carbon footprint by embracing more sustainable practices, it can be nearly impossible to have a neutral carbon footprint simply through behaviour change alone. Greenspark is here to help supplement your sustainable efforts by allowing you to offset your remaining carbon footprint.  Carbon Offsetting is not the solution alone, but a great way to help us reach our sustainability targets and fight climate change for a safe, sustainable planet. 

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