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What does carbon footprint mean and why is it important in the fight against climate change?

By on June 2, 2022 0

Climate change affects the whole world, causing extreme weather events such as floods, extreme heat waves, heavy rains, as well as rapidly changing weather patterns. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve carbon neutrality, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the 2015 Paris Agreement, it is essential to understand d ‘where emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases come from, so that actions to reduce emissions can be taken. So what does carbon footprint mean and why is it relevant in this context?

What does carbon footprint mean?

A carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, such as ††carbon cadoxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), expressed in tons of CO equivalent2. It is associated with the activities of an individual, community, organization, process, product or service, or event, among others. The individual carbon footprint can therefore be referred to as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by our personal actions such as transport, household activities, clothing and food. A product’s carbon footprint measures the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from its life cycle – from the extraction and production of raw materials to end use by consumers, including the recycling or disposal. A company’s carbon footprint determines greenhouse gas emissions from all of its operations, including electricity generation used in building structures, industrial operations, machinery and equipment. A country’s carbon footprint takes into account greenhouse gas emissions from total energy and material use, factories and other carbon sequestration, as well as indirect and direct process emissions. import and export.

Credit: Wynes and Nicolas (2017)

Why is this important in the fight against climate change?

The carbon footprint is a valuable tool for measuring the contribution to climate change of an individual, organizations, products and services, etc. For example, by calculating the industrial carbon footprint, an industry can better understand its main sources of emissions and find ways to minimize them.

Some of the biggest benefits of measuring a company’s carbon footprint:

  1. Help you understand the main sources of emissions in your organization.
  2. It allows you to dive deep into your business operations and identify the most important challenges as well as opportunities.
  3. It facilitates stakeholder participation.
  4. It allows you to become more aware of your consumption and help make more responsible decisions.
  5. To be competitive in the market, you need to implement sustainable carbon reduction strategies.
  6. Estimating a company’s carbon footprint can help improve the reliability and veracity of data used for environmental, social and governance (ESG) sustainability reporting.

Consumers are also increasingly aware and aware of the environmental effects of the products they buy in the market. According to a 2020 YouGov poll of more than 10,000 consumers worldwide, two-thirds (64%) of consumers approve of the concept of carbon labeling on products to show that products have been made with a commitment to measuring and reducing their carbon footprint.

At the individual level, to effectively contribute to climate change mitigation, you do so by monitoring and measuring your individual carbon footprint. Some people produce much more carbon dioxide than others; the average carbon footprint of an individual in the United States is sixteen tons, one of the largest in the world. The average global carbon footprint is closer to four tons. To have the best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon footprints need to be measured at many levels, including national, organizational and individual.

How a carbon footprint is calculated

A carbon footprint is estimated by measuring not only CO2 but also emissions of other greenhouse gases such as methane – which is 25 times more potent than carbon – and nitrous oxide. The effects of each of these gases are added together and represented by a single value in metric tons of carbon dioxide (MT CO2e). There are two commonly used methods for carbon footprint estimation, life cycle assessment and input-output analysis. Life cycle analysis takes into account all the processes of the product life cycle, from production to disposal of the product. This is to summarize as many emission pathways as possible. With this approach, there is a high possibility of missing some lanes and since this is a manual process; the calculator by product can take days and is therefore not suitable for large scale use.

The second method known as input-output analysis is to use carbon intensities, which are measured in kilograms of CO2 by amount spent on products, to assign an imprint to a product based on its price. Since the process is fully automated, it is much faster and can handle large amounts of data. The main limitation of this method is that it cannot handle product-specific data, such as low-carbon sources.

Deciding which method to use depends on whether you are dealing with small or large amounts of data. Many calculators are available online to help you estimate your personal carbon footprint. However, depending on the methodology used, responses can vary significantly from website to website. Although this is only an estimate, it will give you an idea of ​​your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. It might also give a better idea to make your life choices more eco-friendly.

What can you do to reduce your carbon footprint?

During our daily life, we emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By reducing our carbon footprint, we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The choices we make every day in our homes, our travels, the food we eat, and what we buy and throw away can help ensure a stable climate for future generations. A vegetarian or vegan diet, for example, is more environmentally friendly than a meat-rich diet. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition By February 2022, Americans who eat beef could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 48% by replacing beef-free, one-serving-a-day meals with a more environmentally friendly alternative. Other lifestyle changes include using a bike instead of a car for travel, or you can use renewable energy to power your car and electronics.

For companies, reducing the carbon footprint is essential in terms of compliance and stakeholder engagement. If you want to be successful in business, you need to adopt sustainable emission reduction strategies. For emissions that companies are unable to reduce or reduce, they can be compensated – meaning companies can invest in eco-sustainable activities to the point that they capture the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the organization or activities are responsible for. For example, if company stakeholders cannot avoid flying or long commutes, one way to offset emissions is to donate money to eco-sustainable projects. It is everyone’s responsibility, including individuals and the private sector, to make the world a cleaner and more environmentally sustainable place.