Carbon Footprint: learning to calculate our environmental impact

The interest in reducing the environmental impact goes hand in hand with the popularity of the concept of carbon footprint. However, not everyone knows its meaning. The carbon footprint is a measure that identifies the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generated by human action and the economic activity carried out by companies.

The interest in reducing the environmental impact goes hand in hand with the popularity of the concept of carbon footprint. However, not everyone knows its meaning. The carbon footprint is a measure that identifies the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generated by human action and the economic activity carried out by companies.

A more precise definition would express that the carbon footprint measures the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted directly or indirectly.

The concept refers to the “footprint” that our step leaves on the planet according to consumption and the type of habits we develop every day. That is, the type of food we eat, the goods and services we buy and the means of transport we use are those that define the energy consumption we generate.

The carbon footprint is an excellent management tool to understand and improve the behaviors and actions carried out and to recommend efficient use of resources.

Due to the carbon footprint, it is possible to know the degree of existing pollution, since the gases emitted accumulate in the atmosphere above the usual levels, producing the so-called “greenhouse effect” that is the fundamental cause of climate change. In this sense, the carbon footprint is established as a key environmental indicator.

The “footprint” determines the impact that human beings generate on the planet, according to their daily consumption habits.

These emitted gases, due to their chemical composition, absorb part of the heat that comes from the Sun, resulting in an increase in the average temperature of Earth, beyond the rise produced by natural conditions.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 50% since 1990. According to the United Nations, between 2000 and 2010 the increase was greater than in the previous three decades. These data highlight the direct relationship that exists between human action and climate change, in fact the probability that humans are responsible for this situation rises to 95%.

In order to limit the increase in the global average temperature and address climate change, the countries adopted the Paris Agreement, which establishes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Specifically, Global Goal 13 promotes the adoption of urgent measures to tackle climate change and move towards a low-carbon economy.

Calculating the footprint

To find out the carbon footprint of a product, the entire life cycle is analyzed. That is, from the moment the raw materials are acquired, the manufacturing process, the means of distribution and the management as waste.

Meanwhile, if you want to know your personal footprint (the one that each individual leaves on the planet) there are carbon footprint “calculators” that assess our habits. For example, the means of transport we use to go to work, the monthly consumption of gas, electricity and water, the percentage of our diet that corresponds to meat and its derivatives, etc.

Typical and deeply rooted customs in our civilization threaten global climate stability. Livestock raising and beef production, together with deforestation, figure as the activities responsible for the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is based on the fact that the methane gas released by cows during the digestion of pastures in their stomachs has a capacity to retain heat in the atmosphere twenty times higher than carbon dioxide.

It is not a matter of radically modifying daily habits overnight, but of becoming aware of how they affect the health of the planet and from this point, steadily reducing the carbon footprint.

The calculation of the footprint is carried out by multiplying the energy consumption and the emission factor, expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2eq). The first parameter defines the level of activity that generates GHG emissions. The second parameter refers to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by each unit of the previous parameter. It is possible to know this data taking into account the emission factors of the main fuels listed in the National Inventory of Greenhouse Gases and their sources of extraction.

Internationally there are different regulations for the calculation depending on the scope of the carbon footprint: ISO 14064, ISO 14069, ISO 14067, PAS 2050, GHG Protocol, among others. The methodology used by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) for National Communications on Greenhouse Gases, takes PAS 2050 or the GHG Standard Protocol for products and ISO 14064 or the GHG Corporate Standard Protocol for organizations.

How can companies compensate for the footprint?

The calculation of the carbon footprint allows companies to become aware of the impact that their activities generate on the planet. Based on this knowledge, measures can be implemented to reduce it sustainably.

Calculating the footprint is the first step towards improving and making the production process cheaper by reducing energy costs. Once the size of the footprint has been determined, an emission reduction or compensation strategy can be implemented.

The scope of these emissions to be considered can be classified into three groups: direct emissions, which are a consequence of the activities of the same organization, indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by other companies, and other indirect ones that attribute them to the products and services that the organization acquires. The latter are the most complicated to account for, since the information is not easily accessible unless it is provided by its producer.

Direct emissions (first group) are released in situ where the activity is carried out, for example, becvause of the type of machines it uses, the type of fuel it burns, the use of chemicals in its production processes, etc. Indirect emissions (second group) are produced (and released) from non-proprietary sources or are controlled by another company. Examples of this situation are the emissions from the electricity consumed that are not produced in the place where the electricity was generated.

What measures can be implemented to reduce the environmental impact?

In addition to the information provided by the carbon footprint calculator, reducing consumption is the most efficient way to avoid excessive greenhouse gas emissions.The 3Rs of Sustainability are the best method to follow: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle products and services.

Ready to calculate your carbon footprint?

The calculation of the environmental impact can be obtained in the following sites:

Footprint Network:

Carbon Footprint:

Footprint of cities:

Zero Co2:


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