The Basics of a Carbon Footprint

With climate change issues taking over government agendas, and sustainable development goals being given the topmost priority by individuals and corporates alike, the term “carbon footprint” has gained incredible traction over the past couple of years. Carbon footprints are essentially used to denote the full extent of direct or indirect carbon emissions (along with other supplemental greenhouse gases) released into the environment, which is relevant to climate change and is a result of human production and consumption activities. A carbon footprint can be calculated or estimated for an individual, an organisation, or even an entire nation. The climate change impact resulting from each activity is estimated by calculating the carbon footprint, which includes not just carbon dioxide but also methane and nitrous oxide.

Understanding carbon footprint and its impact

Though the term may be a colloquial way of understanding the impact human beings have had on environmental change, carbon footprints are a vital part of our comprehensive and encompassing ecological footprint.

According to eminent scientists and environmental advocates seeking climate change solutions, carbon footprint can be divided broadly into two categories:

Direct Emissions or Primary Footprint

This category of carbon footprint results from activities which lead to emission of Carbon Dioxide and other supplemental greenhouse gases, through direct combustion of fossil fuels. Consequently, all activities resulting in direct emissions have an immediate impact on the environment, also adversely affecting natural resources therein. For example, CO2 emissions from driving a car, flying an airplane, or even using electronic devices fall under this category.

Indirect Emissions or Secondary Footprint

This category of carbon footprint is used to denote emissions that are a consequence of an indirect relation with certain activities pertaining to human consumption, such as purchasing an internationally manufactured T-shirt. When an individual purchases an item, all emissions released into the environment due to manufacturing and transportation of that item would fall under the ambit of indirection emissions, also known as a secondary footprint. Additionally, this kind of emission also takes into account what happens after the said product is used, including the amount taken by the material of the product to degrade naturally, and the consequences of the breakdown process on the environmental health.

How do carbon footprints work?

A technical definition of what carbon footprint is can be described as a measurement of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, in relation to the emission of other greenhouse gases relative to one unit of carbon dioxide. A lot of factors are taken into consideration while calculating a carbon footprint. For example, driving to the mall burns a given amount of fuel, which emits greenhouse gases. This might be your carbon footprint at a given time. However, the mall you’ve driven to also has its own contribution to carbon footprint as a whole business. This includes electricity, equipment used, items that were shipped for selling, emissions during manufacturing processes, individual employee contribution among other reasons. All of these elements combine to lend a better understanding of carbon footprint from a certain activity.

Individuals and organisations advocating for the overall health of the environment try and reduce their carbon footprint by reducing activities that lead to greenhouse gas emission. Alternatively, some people come up with sustainable lifestyle choices like switching to renewable energy sources, conservation of water, tree planting to promote global goals for sustainable development.

You may calculate your carbon footprint by taking into account the total sum of carbon dioxide emissions induced by your activities in a given time frame. There are various charts, online calculators which may assist you in personally understanding what your carbon footprint is, thereby enabling you to re-evaluate which activities you need to refrain from, to reduce your carbon footprint while aiming for sustainable development.

Why calculate your organisation’s carbon footprint?

Climate change brings untoward risks to businesses as well as economies; therefore, it is paramount to not only understand what your organisation’s carbon footprint is but also to reduce it in a timely manner. The reduction of the carbon footprints is essentially an optimisation process for your organisation, which would mean that reduction in the carbon footprint of an organisation or company would streamline business and production operations to an optimal point. Additionally, it also implies cost savings for the organisation as many factors leading to an increased carbon footprint involve excessive and non-optimised energy usage. Therefore, not only does your business engage in its corporate social responsibility and foster global sustainability goals while incorporating environmental sustainability projects, but also save up on costs for the organisation, thereby increasing their profit as well. Other than minimising energy usage, organisations may also bolster their company’s and provide a feasible solution to the reduction of the carbon footprint by engaging in projects such as corporate tree planting for sustainability, spreading awareness of how cutting down trees affect the climate, and implementing recycling of waste. Partnerships with reforestation companies like EcoMatcher can help your organisation to promote a more sustainable way of living. Gift or adopt a tree or walk the extra mile and plant a forest!

Why is combatting carbon footprints essential?

In order to achieve a world where our posterity can enjoy the fruits of our labour, we need to understand that minimising our carbon footprint is the way forward, or at least, the first step forward to achieving true sustainable development. Some measures that can be taken by individuals, governments or organisations to eliminate carbon dioxide are to encourage reforestation and to inform their fellow peers of how reforestation will combat climate change as well as aid humans in preserving this planet. It stands to reason that since humans are responsible for the emission of most greenhouse gases and the adverse effect they have on the environment, they should be the ones who strive to effectively reduce, if not eliminate, their carbon footprint from the planet and preserve the environment.

Conclusion

Each and every individual is an active contributor to the carbon footprint that they leave behind on this planet, whether directly, or indirectly. Organisations and companies leave behind an even bigger carbon footprint on the planet, adversely affecting the environment we live in. The need of the hour is to actively reduce and eventually work towards completely eliminating all carbon footprint in the coming few years so as to preserve the sanctity of our environment and the world that we live in.

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Bas Fransen, CEO EcoMatcher

EcoMatcher connects companies, communities, and consumers through trustworthy and transparent tree-planting.