Carbon Footprint: What This Is and What We Can Do about It

Gisela Possetto 2021-04-12 9 min

If you are a recurrent reader of our blog, you'll notice that it's not the first time we address this issue. We've done it in previous articles (Water Footprint definition) and we'll continue doing so because we consider the more you read and the more you spread the word about it, the better. So whether you've read us previously or not, let me tell you what we bring to you this time. We'll try to understand together some data as regards what this Carbon Footprint is, what impact it has on our environment, and how to measure it on a daily basis. Last but not least, we'll share some simple every day actions you can do to do something about this and to further contribute to the preservation of our Planet. So, if we already caught your attention, you're most welcome to keep on reading!

For Starters, What Is the Carbon Footprint?

An article in the New York Times defines a carbon footprint as the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

Let's take for instance, the water carbon footprint. The water footprint can be measured at several levels: from individual consumption (like the amount of water you and me use daily), a community, or a company, and it’s defined as the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods or services consumed by the individual and community or produced by the company, so to speak. This means it can be measured for one single process such as growing beans, for a single product like a book, for the food we buy, or even for a whole transnational grocery store. We can even know how much water is consumed by a particular country or city.

The total water footprint of a product breaks down into three components: the green, blue and gray water footprint.

  • Green Water Footprint is the volume of water evaporated from the global green water resources (rainwater stored in the soil) to make any product or service.
  • Blue Water Footprint is the volume of freshwater manipulated by humans that have been sourced from surface or groundwater resources such as natural wells. It is either evaporated, incorporated into a product, or taken from a body of water.
  • Gray Water Footprint is the total amount of fresh water required to assimilate pollutants to meet specific quality standards. So how much freshwater do we use to clean water?
graphic showing countries with most impact on the share of the world\\\'s carbon footprint
Figures from footprint network

Together, these components give us a comprehensive picture of water use by outlining the source of water consumed, and the volume of fresh water required for the assimilation of pollutants. And as it goes for water, it goes for each of our natural resources.

Can We Measure Our Own Carbon Footprint?

footprint on sand
Min An from Pexels

So the bad news is to find out, once again, that human activities have a terrible negative impact on the Planet. We use our natural resources irresponsibly and we indirectly cause well known environmental problems such as pollution (air, water and sound contamination, all of them count), depletion of the ozone layer, alteration of ecosystems and thus, the most terrible problem we've been facing for decades: global warming, that is the alteration of temperature patterns all the world over.

On the other hand, the good news is that we now know about this and we can measure the impact of our carbon footprint in an easy way! And most importantly, we can create or modify our consuming habits in order to reduce the impact of our carbon footprint.

How Do I Measure My Own Carbon Footprint?

You can start the process by taking into consideration, first, the following:

  • Approximately how many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane.
  • The energy usage in your home.
  • How much you spend shopping.
  • The composition of your diet.

Once you've considered this, please make you own calculation here and remember that no matter how you score, there's always something you can do and we'll explore some alternatives together!

So, as you've noticed after taking this easy quiz, the measurement of your carbon footprint is determined by:

  • your location: yap, there are some part of the worlds facing more serious environmental problems than others.
  • your regular means of transport: do you use a car? are you a user of public transport? Do you bike or walk?
  • your use of electricity, water and gas at home along with the size of your place.
  • your diet: Do you eat: animal-derived products? Do you have enough fruits and vegetables? Are into junk food? Do you go for processed or ready to go meals? Do you cook?
  • your shopping: Do you spend more on services or products?
people doing different outdoor activities
human activities from inspirecleanenergy

These days, an individual in the United States produces an average of 16 tons of carbon footprint, which represents one of the highest rates in the world. Now, speaking more globally, the average comes close to 4 tons. It will take a huge effort and compromise among all of us as a community to reduce by 2 tons this average rate by the year 2050. It is the only way to avoid a rise of C° in global temperature patterns. What say you? You can contribute to this drop taking very simple action. Let's check together some new habits you can get into!

Taking Action

Is there anything we can do to reduce this impact? Of course, there is. Let's check some simple ways in which you could be reducing your carbon footprint. But there is no magic tricks here, and this necessary individual drop of an individual's carbon footprints from 16 tons to 2 won't happen all of a sudden. But! Only by introducing slight changes into our lifestyle - not eating meat or dairy products- using public transportation more or buying second-hand clothes, just to mention a few- together we can make a substantial change. Don't you think it's worth trying?

Top 5 Cost Saving Actions

1. Use your Car Less

Did you know that the carbon dioxide emissions produced by transportation significantly outgunned the emissions produced by electricity generation as the number one source of greenhouse gases? Why? According to 2017 study from researchers at Lund University and the University of British Columbia, the process of producing electricity is changing to use less coal and more renewable resources such as natural gas.

Let's imagine for as second, that you can decide not to use your car for an entire year, you'll be saving around 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide - which by BTW, it's a little bit more than a roundtrip transatlantic flight. Yap, a lot! How can you stop using your car? Have you ever tried taking a train, bus or even better yet, rode a bike?

2. Eat Less Meat (or Don't Eat it at All!)

It's widely popular already and most experts would mostly agree that cutting down on meat, and red meat in particular, is a better choice for the environment. Why so? Just all the industry of red meat only takes a lot of land that usually comes from deforestation and tons of ground water which is not renewable.

So, going vegan might be best for the environment! And guess what else? You would be contributing a lesser suffering of animals like cows, pigs or chickens that live on poor conditions in farms, slaughterhouses and lookalikes. Besides, a study published in 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, states that red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant based food. If you like this idea, please check our article: How to go Vegan with no setbacks, especially for beginners.!

3. Waste Less

That this is a big issue in our country is out of question: on average, Americans waste around 40 percent of the food they buy.

Luckily, there are simple solutions to lower your food waste and save some money!

  • Buy only the essentials! Less is more, they say. Organize a day to shop at the groceries, make a list of just the most necessary elements to prevent you from buying stuff you don't really need. Word of advice: if you are hesitating, don't buy it!
  • Schedule and Plan your Meals. Do not cook more food than what you are going to eat. If you live by yourself, it is a good idea to adapt family recipes just for one! and if you have leftovers anyway, be creative and recycle them in your next meal!
  • Don't toss food. Ever!
  • Use your Freezer more! We've already advised on stocking up. Remember that freezing is one fo your best allies for this. You can make meat, veggies, even spices last longer if you separate them properly and put it into the freezer!
  • Doggie bag. Take home half of oversized restaurant servings.
flyer reading reduce your carbon footprint
Reduce your carbon footprint from conserve-energy-future
4. At Home
  • We are very used to the habit of using a tumble dryer as part of the daily laundry. But you may consider hanging out the washing, instead. Believe it o not, hanging the washing out instead of using the tumble dryer can contribute to saving around 153 kg of carbon dioxide per year, which means paying less money in the electricity bill, too!

  • Just by turning out your heating by 1°C you'll be already making a positive impact. How? If you reduce your heating by 1⁰C, you drop your energy consumption by 8% and CO2 emissions by 184 kg. That would be great news for the planet, for sure!
  • Only boil the amount of water that you are going to use for your hot drink. It sounds so obvious, but we don't generally do it. Only boiling the amount of water for your drink will save 72 kg CO2 a year.
  • When you go to the shower, don't take too much! Who doesn't enjoy a long hot relaxing shower? Yap, everyone. But this is bad for the planet. It is true that the greatest effort has to be made by corporations but we can make a little contribution here. From time to time, try spending less time in the shower. This can save 23 kg CO2 (and some money in your gas bill, as well!)
  • When you are not using your electrical and electronic devices, turn the off fully! Leaving them on stand by is not enough. Turn the off! Completely turning off just one LCD TV for 18 hours a day can save about 5 kg CO2 a year. If you multiply this with all of your equipment, only imagine the impact!
5. Shop Sustainably

Starting to buy only the things that you need is already a strong first step! Try buying second hand clothes, for instance. But whatever it is you’re shopping for — groceries, home goods, toys and whatever else — there are ways to take the climate into account.

  • Take a reusable bag to the store.
  • Skip the packaging.
  • Invest in quality products that last
  • Buy carbon offsets. It is true that sometimes we cannot do any of the above to reduce our impact, but you still can contribute by supporting projects that cancel out these emissions. Just remember to be careful when choosing your carbon offsets and make sure they re authentic! UN sustainable development goals flyer

Sustainable Development Goals from United Nations.

The issue of the impact of our individual and collective carbon footprint is serious and we can take some action, almost effortlessly. So, what do you think? Can you do it? I bet you can.

Gisela Possetto

Copywirter, Cats + Tattoos + Music Lover

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