November 2020
Volume 4, Issue 2

Carbon Footprints

As humans every single action we perform comes with a cost. The cost is not in the form of money, however it does come in the form of gases that are harmful to the environment.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are associated with all the activities of an individual or entity (company, country, organization, etc.). These emissions include those that are both directly and indirectly caused by actions or behaviors of the individual or entity. The direct emissions include those that result from fossil-fuel combustion, emissions produced by generating electricity, and other emissions.[1] In short, it can be described as the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs), like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), which are generated from human activities. Here in the United States, the average carbon footprint per person is 16 tons. This is one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. When looking at the entire earth, the average is about 4 tons.[2] These footprints are important when looking at issues such as climate change and global warming.

Above: Visual representation of a carbon footprint, image courtesy of CO2 Living

Above: Visual representation of a carbon footprint, image courtesy of CO2 Living

[1] https://www.britannica.com/science/carbon-footprint

[2] https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/

How is it measured?

As previously mentioned, carbon footprints can be measured. They can be measured on global, national, industrial, and individual scales. Below you will find some ways in which both companies and individuals go about measuring their footprint.

           

Companies

            When companies typically begin investing resources to reduce their carbon footprint, it is important for them to understand why they are measuring their carbon footprint. To start, they tend to create a baseline report to compare their future measurements to. While there are a number of emissions that are included in ‘carbon’ footprints, there are other gases that can be included in the measurements, such as GHGs. These other gases are converted into a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to be incorporated into the total carbon footprint. Emissions are measured through three internationally-recognized categories, which are known as scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

Scope 1 emissions are also known as direct emissions. These are the easiest to both identify and measure because they come from sources that are owned, operated, or controlled by the company. These emissions include fossil fuels from onsite processing, onsite manufacturing, and company vehicles. Scope 2 and 3 emissions are known as indirect emissions. Scope 2 emissions are produced through energy that a company buys and consumes, like electricity and heat. Lastly, scope 3 emissions are the result from goods and services that a company buys or outsources, commuting, travelling, waste, water, and the emissions produced from the product or service that is sold.[1] Companies often determine what emissions to include in their carbon footprint.

            After deciding which emissions to include and creating a baseline, carbon and GHG data is collected, calculated, and analyzed by the company. Once that is complete, they will report the results and begin to formulate a plan of action to achieve their desired results. There are online calculators that are available to companies to help them calculate their direct and indirect emissions, as well as carbon conversion factors for emissions.[2]

[1] https://native.eco/2018/04/measuring-your-corporate-carbon-emissions/

[2] https://www.pensacolaenergy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CarbonFootprint.pdf

Individuals

Above: Carbon footprint calculator representation, image courtesy of Trees4Life Campaign

Above: Carbon footprint calculator representation, image courtesy of Trees4Life Campaign

As individuals we can also measure our carbon footprint. This is mainly calculated considering factors such as daily habits, diets, lifestyle, and transportation. It is very easy to learn about your carbon footprint by using an online carbon footprint calculator.

Above: Carbon footprint calculator representation, image courtesy of Trees4Life Campaign

Here are some sources that can tell you more about your carbon footprint:

The Aggie Eco Reps also offer an interactive Carbon Footprint Investigator presentation available for resident advisors to request for their halls. You can learn more by going to https://www.aggieecoreps.com/.

How can you offset or reduce it?

While many actions that we take may produce carbon emissions, there are ways to either offset or reduce the emissions that we produce. A carbon offset is a form of trade that helps reduce GHG emissions. Here are some ways to offset and reduce our carbon emissions.

            Companies

Once a company knows more about their carbon footprint, they can work towards making positive change through offsets and reduction. For companies, carbon offsets can take many forms. Some forms include forest restorations, updating plants or factories, and even increasing energy efficiency of building and transportation. Through offsets, companies can help reduce total GHG instead of making difficult reductions themselves. While these carbon offsets are voluntary, businesses buy them to reduce their carbon footprint or build up their green image. These offsets can counteract specific company activities like travel and events, while also raising awareness about lowering GHG emissions.

Carbon offsets are purchased through offset companies. These offset companies typically have carbon footprint calculators to help determine the amount of GHG emissions produced by activities. Then the offset companies will charge an amount based on their own GHG price per ton to offset the activities. This price will cover programs that offset an equal amount of emissions.[1]

Above: Brief carbon offset explanation, image courtesy of bef

Above: Brief carbon offset explanation, image courtesy of bef

           

Individuals

Although individual carbon footprints are incredibly small compared to companies, there are still ways to offset them. Carbon footprints are reduced by the amount of carbon offsets purchased from emission reduction projects. These projects can include dairy farms and wind turbines. These personal carbon offset purchases can help make a positive impact on the environment[2].

Carbon offsets are great ways to reduce or make up for your emissions, however there are other ways you can lower your carbon footprint. One way to do so is by reducing your meat consumption. This is because GHG emissions are very high in agribusiness and a lot of water is used to actually obtain the meat. You can also try using less power by unplugging your devices, turning off the lights when they aren’t in use, and even hang drying your clothes. Another way to lower your carbon footprint is by using alternative forms of transportation. Instead of using your car each day try carpooling, walking, biking, or even using public transportation. Public transportation alone has saved the U.S. 37 million tons of carbon emissions annually.[3]

 

Here are some sources that can help you learn more about personal carbon offsets:

[1] https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/carbon-offset.htm

[2] https://www.terrapass.com/product/productindividuals-families

[3] https://co2living.com/reduce-your-carbon-footprint-7-instant-ways/

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