What is a carbon footprint?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

eco_footrpint A carbon footprint is “the total set of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product”. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted.

However, that is actually a very bad measurement, for it is not just the greenhouse gases that we must be concerned about as to our way of life and the products that we buy but the entire environmental footprint... Too many people, and agencies, only consider CO2 and other GHGs in the equation and forget that there is a lot more to it, thus “environmental footprint” is a much better terms. But measurement must then include more than just emissions.

The concept name of the carbon footprint originates from ecological footprint discussion. The carbon footprint is a subset of the ecological footprint and of the more comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

An individual, nation, or organization’s carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, e.g. by technological developments, better process and product management, changed Green Public or Private Procurement (GPP), Carbon capture, consumption strategies, and others.

The mitigation of carbon footprints through the development of alternative projects, such as solar or wind energy or reforestation, represents one way of reducing a carbon footprint and is often known as Carbon offsetting.

In other words:

A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation etc.

The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce and has units of tonnes (or kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

A carbon footprint is made up of the sum of two parts, the primary footprint (shown by the green slices of the pie chart) and the secondary footprint (shown as the yellow slices).

  1. 1. The primary footprint is a measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption and transportation (e.g. car and plane). We have direct control of these.

  2. The secondary footprint is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the whole lifecycle of products we use – those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown. To put it very simply – the more we buy the more emissions will be caused on our behalf.

However, to recap my previous exercise: The entire issue of the carbon footprint, for that is all people seem to talk about nowadays, despite the fact that it is a subset of the overall ecological footprint or, as I prefer to call it, environmental footprint.

The only reason that every one is on about carbon footprint all the time is because the gas emissions seem to be more measurable than the rest of our – or a product's or a company's – impact on the environment, that is to say therefore our environmental footprint.

Carbon is also the only things that they are starting a trade in, a trade in carbon offsets and all this jazz, which are no more than modern day indulgences. Companies pay for a few trees to be planted or whatever in order to be able – so they think – to carry on polluting and business as usual.

However, carbon offsets and all that are nothing but indulgences as they were sold by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and against which Martin Luther (no, not Martin Luther King) objected and took a stand. We must do the same today and object against carbon trading as it will not help the Planet and only make some people super-rich. It has nothing to do with being beneficial for Mother Earth but everything with certain peoples' profits.

No to carbon trading and carbon offsets, I say, and we must regard our impact on the Planet in a complete different measurement than just carbon footprint and look at the much greater picture.

Each and every thing that we do, each and every product that we buy, etc. has an impact on the Planet and on the future of us on Mother Earth and therefore we must learn to, once again, live in harmony with Her and carbon offsetting and carbon trading has nothing to do with that and has no place there.

© 2010