We’ve all heard of ‘Carbon Footprint’. It’s a term thrown around a lot by everyone from charities to large corporations. But what exactly is carbon footprint and why does it matter? And what is the purpose of a carbon footprint calculator for individuals? Surely our personal footprint is too small to make a difference?
A lot of jargon used to promote sustainable options can be vague and confusing. This article published on behalf of 8 Billion Trees aims to address the confusion and help individuals understand how important it is for them to measure and take steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint.
We are all aware that climate change is happening here and now. We know COP26 is about to take place and we desperately need world leaders to not only make commitments but also take action – NOW.
But every single one of us also has a responsibility to take action. No individual or business is too small to make a difference. No organisation is too big to be held accountable.
So, what exactly is ‘carbon footprint’ and why does it matter? How do you calculate your personal carbon footprint and take steps to reduce it?
What exactly is Carbon Footprint?
Individuals have a carbon footprint and an ecological footprint. Although they both measure environmental impact, they measure different aspects.
Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by your individual actions. It’s a personal, unique signature of your impact on this planet.
Releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pretty unavoidable. From the well-known sources of CO2 (transportation, air travel, gas, and electricity) to the less obvious (food consumption, buying new clothes, browsing the web), going about your daily life inevitably causes a small rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases.
We all do it without thinking and modern life makes this hard to avoid.
But why does this matter? And what can we do about it?
What exactly is Ecological Footprint?
Your ecological footprint is the amount of land and resources required to sustain your lifestyle. We all use resources for food, clothing, and shelter. However, those of us living in economically developed countries on average eat more meat, buy more clothes, and waste more food. We have a higher ecological footprint.
Each year, we use up more resources than the Earth can replenish and produce more carbon emissions than can be removed naturally. The date at which we exceed our yearly resources is called Earth Overshoot Day.
Earth Overshoot Day has been happening earlier every year since the concept was introduced. We’d currently need 1.6 Earths to keep living as we are. If everyone consumed like an American, we would need four Earths. The aspiration to continually consume more and more is simply not sustainable.
Does my personal carbon footprint matter?
Those in Europe currently have a higher carbon footprint than the global average. The average annual carbon footprint in Europe is 6.7 tonnes CO2 per person.
In some countries, this is much higher. For example, in the UK this doubles to 12.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per person per year.
The annual global average is only four tons. Many people around the world use fewer resources out of choice or necessity. Yet, on average, those of us in developed countries tend to use more resources than we should.
To have the best chance of avoiding the catastrophic environmental changes caused by a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under two tons by 2050.
This is where you come in.
Our personal actions matter. Lowering individual carbon footprints to two tons doesn’t happen overnight. But we can make small changes, such as reducing our meat consumption, flying less or not at all, and consuming less.
Where do I start?
Trying to cut down your annual carbon emissions is already a great first step!
The next step is to estimate how much carbon dioxide you, your family, or your business emit annually. The best way to do this is to use a free carbon footprint calculator to work out your impact.
It’s super easy! You’ll need to examine some areas of your daily life, such as how much you drive, what kinds of foods you eat, how often you go shopping, and how much electricity you use.
Once you’ve got an estimate of how many tons of greenhouse gases enter the environment as a result of your actions, it’s time to make a change.
5 simple ways to lower your carbon footprint
There are so many ways to lower your carbon footprint and, therefore, your impact on our planet. You can make small changes, invest in carbon offset schemes, or more!
Offset your carbon emissions
The easiest way to become instantly carbon neutral is to offset your emissions. Carbon offsets compensate for your emissions by reducing them elsewhere. Simply put, you pay towards a programme that’ll remove an equal amount of CO2, such as planting a forest.
However, we do recommend that you start by thinking about your personal actions, minimising your carbon footprint as much as you can, then using offsets to balance any remaining emissions.
Not everyone can embrace a vegan diet overnight but reducing meat consumption can dramatically cut your carbon emissions! Meat and dairy account for 18% of global calories consumed but use 83% of all land for food and produce 60% of all emissions from food.
Why not embrace Veganuary or Meat Free Mondays for a challenge and as the start towards a healthier, Mediterranean style diet that puts veg, fruit, and wholegrains at the forefront of your diet.?
Think about your transport
Could you walk, cycle, or take public transport to work? If you must drive, have you thought about car sharing with a colleague? Simple changes like this can soon add up and could work out cheaper or healthier in the long run.
Embrace the staycation
You don’t have to cut out international travel completely, but have you thought about what your own country or a neighbouring land has to offer? Skip the long-haul flights and embrace the experiences your home country can offer.
Be a considerate consumer.
Everything you do uses resources. Turning off the taps, switching off lights, and turning down the heating can help to lower your carbon footprint. Additionally, thinking about what you need vs what you want can save you money and cut down your ecological footprint.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
This post was brought to you by Alice, a UK travel writer and advocate for sustainable travel. At Discoveny, we aim to make climate-conscious travel fun. Seeing our wonderful world and saving it for future generations don’t have to be mutually exclusive, so head over to Discoveny for sustainable travel guides, tips, and anecdotes.