What is a Carbon Footprint?

By Andy

We’ve all heard the term “carbon footprint” before, usually in the context of climate change or environmental impact. It’s relevant for many people as a way to measure their impact on the environment.  

The term refers to exactly what it sounds like: a “footprint,” or a lasting impact that each person has on the planet’s carbon emissions. However, what constitutes a carbon footprint is more complex. 

For example, The World Health Organization defines a carbon footprint as the amount of carbon dioxide produced through fossil fuel consumption. This amount is expressed as the weight, in equivalent tons, of these carbon dioxide emissions, and usually over one year. There are also several categories that make up an individual or organization’s carbon footprint. 

Curious how you can measure your carbon footprint? Take a look at an in-depth look at what constitutes an individual or organization’s carbon footprint below. 

The Four Categories of a Carbon Footprint 

So, what is a carbon footprint? What sort of behaviors or actions contribute to this equation? We’re all familiar with certain actions in which we directly use fossil fuels, like filling a car with gas, but almost every facet of modern life has its own carbon footprint. 

Luckily, these are often divided into four categories that help us grasp what areas have the most impact and where we can start making changes. 

1) Household Energy 

This might be the first thing we think about what is a carbon footprint. Using gas and electricity to power our appliances, heat our water, and charge our devices all contribute to the use of household energy. 

2) Transportation 

Transportation can include many things, not just driving a car. This also includes: 

  • Public transportation like trains and buses
  • Riding on an airplane
  • Operating a boat with an engine

3) Food 

A lot of resources go into producing, transporting, and selling food. Farmers need to use water, pesticides, and other materials to grow crops. Energy is used during the harvesting process, and fuel is used to transport food to grocery stores. 

Certain foods have a higher environmental impact than others, however. For example, processed foods generally have higher emissions because of additional packaging and factory production. Buying out of season also has a higher impact, because more fuel is used to transport these products a longer distance. 

Meat is one of the biggest contributors, and beef is the worst offender. In fact, driving a vehicle 160 miles has the same emissions as just one kilogram of beef. 

4) Consumption 

Consumption is one of the biggest categories in categories that makes up what is a carbon footprint. It includes almost everything: clothing, make-up, books, electronics; the list is endless. 

Like with food, each of these has an impact during production, transportation, and packaging. Then there is also the afterlife of these products, including ones that cannot be recycled. 

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint 

First, take a deep breath. After reading all of the ways that our everyday lives contribute to our carbon footprint, it might seem like improving is impossible. However, it can be easier than you think! 

The key is to start small. You won’t get your carbon footprint to zero, so doing the best you can with what you have is the best option. 

Now that we have specified what is a carbon footprint and what we do that contributes to it, let’s review some options for reducing it. 

Reduce your water usage

Many popular appliance brands have water-saving models specifically designed to lower the energy needed to heat, treat, and pump water. 

Eat locally

You can reduce the emissions of transporting and packaging foods if you shop for less processed products that are sold locally. 

Reduce beef intake

While you don’t need to give up beef or meat entirely, having a few beef-free days can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. 

Use sustainable transport

When possible, opting for public transportation or riding a bike is a great way to help the environment. 

Recycle and compost

Recycling and composting helps to reduce the resources needed for transporting and breaking down these materials.

Final Thoughts

Even if the changes you make are small, every little bit helps to reduce your carbon footprint. Now that you know what is a carbon footprint, what contributes to it, and how to reduce it, you’re one step closer to helping the environment.

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