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What is a carbon footprint?

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Understanding climate change and its implications can be overwhelming. Over the last few months, the Plannet Zero blog has been shedding light on the role of carbon dioxide in these conversations . But where does one start their own journey to net zero?

What is a carbon footprint?

Your net zero journey starts with a carbon footprint. This is the sum of all your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over a set period of time.

Most human activities release some GHGs. These are called anthropogenic GHGs, and are measured in tCO2e. Your carbon footprint as an individual is determined by lifestyle choices such as consumption patterns, diet, and travel.

It is difficult to estimate the average carbon footprint of an individual with precision. EDGAR, the European Commission’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, has estimated that in 2018, the UK’s per capita emissions were of 6.97tCO2e. The World Bank has estimated the same emissions for the same year at 5.4tCO2e. The WWF estimates the UK per capita emissions around 10tCO2e for this year.

The variation in these numbers is indicative depending on how many variable factors go into calculating a per capita footprint, and that an averaged number may not be that useful.

As an individual, you can calculate your footprint on various platforms such as the WWF, ICAO, or the Nature Conservancy.

How do I calculate my carbon footprint?

In order to calculate your individual carbon footprint, you need to calculate your scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. In simple terms, this is your individual fuel consumption, electricity usage, and everything else.

Scope 3 carbon footprint
Figure: Emissions categorised by scope

For an individual, scope 3 emissions are commute (Are you using public transport or your car? Are you carpooling? Can you cycle?), travel (How often do you fly? What distances do you fly? Are you offsetting your flights?), food usage and waste (Are you buying locally sourced seasonal produce? How much of your food goes to waste? Do you have a food bin? Do you recycle your waste?), the purchase of new electronic goods (Have you bought a new phone or laptop this year?), new clothing (What materials are your fabrics made from? Could you purchase these second hand?), etc. The WWF’s carbon footprint calculator looks at your scope 3 emissions as an individual through behavioural monthly spending.

For an organisation, the principle is the same. You track your fuel consumption, electricity usage, and indirect emissions generated by the company’s supply chain.

Can Plannet Zero help me calculate my carbon footprint?

At Plannet Zero, we have developed our own footprinting tool. We offer this solution to our smaller clients through our One Two Zero programme. SMEs tend to have an easier access to their energy bills and are more likely to track their consumption to keep costs down.

Here is the information you will need to calculate your scope 1 and scope 2 footprint:

  • Fuel consumption: Do you use natural gas/ heating oil/ coal/ liquid petroleum gas/ petrol/ diesel/ wood/ refrigerant top-ups? You will need to have the date on how much of these you use in litres, tonnes, or kWh.
  • The electricity bill for your organisation’s premises in the last 12 months

How do I calculate my organisation’s scope 3 emissions?

Calculating an organisation’s scope 3 emissions is not as straightforward as we would hope, as it relies on data that many companies do not have. To simplify the process, at Plannet Zero we chose to help organisations calculate their emissions according to their operational boundaries. This means, organisations calculate the emissions that fall under their operations. These are emissions within their control. We include the following categories:

  • Business travel
  • Employee commuting
  • Waste and
  • Working from home.

Water usage and water waste treatment do not fall under the official definition of the scope 3 categories. However, we have chosen to include this nonetheless as the associated emissions data is easy to collect, especially from wastewater treatment.

What can I do once I have calculated my carbon footprint?

Calculating your carbon footprint will highlight the areas of your life or operations where you can focus efforts to reduce your impact. For instance, if you travel a lot for holidays, you might consider an alternative mode of transport, such as a train or carpool. You might also consider going for one longer holiday every year, rather than several shorter ones.

As an organisation, if your emissions in one scope is significantly higher than others, this may warrant a reduction strategy that a sustainability champion can help implement. A high electricity consumption could be tackled by switching traditional light bulbs to energy efficient LEDs. It could become company policy to switch off lights and appliances when the office shuts every evening. These might sound like minor changes, but will be effective in the long run, both on your bills and your footprint.

Offsetting my emissions

Another strategy to use in conjunction with an abatement policy is to purchase carbon offsets.

Both individuals and organisations can purchase carbon credits. For individuals, carbon credits can be purchased online through a trusted retailer able to cover a relatively small footprint. For larger quantities, working with a retailer or broker such as Plannet Zero allows offsetters to choose specific projects that they may have particular interest in funding.

Please get in touch with one of the members of our team if you would like to discuss your organisation’s emissions, and your options for calculating your carbon footprint and purchasing carbon credits.


Edited by Tiffany Cheung

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