By Stephanie Koch*
“Leave nothing but footprints” is a rather well-known advice for visiting places in a sustainable way. But not even footprints are necessarily environmentally friendly, at least not carbon footprints. What a carbon footprint is? The concept of a carbon footprint is to show all the greenhouse gases that get emitted due to corporate or personal activities. The bigger the carbon footprint, the more carbon dioxide emissions and the less sustainable – that’s the idea.
A personal carbon footprint is influenced by the lifestyle of a person. Travelling, commuting, possessions, diet, consumption choices – all of these things are accounted for when calculating a personal carbon footprint, usually as an annual estimated value.
A product carbon footprint summarizes the emissions over the lifecycle of a product. This means that for one specific product the emissions caused by production, transportation, sale, use/consumption, recycling and disposal for landfill are being taken into account.
A company carbon footprint presents all greenhouse gases emitted due to all corporate activities along the value chain. These emissions are accounted for over a certain time frame, like a year for example. Basically, a company should not just include its own activities (manufacturing e.g.) that lead to greenhouse gas emissions, but also earlier steps in the value chain like material supply, and later steps in the value chain like retail, into the corporate carbon footprint.
As the amount of greenhouse gases emitted through single activities is typically not directly available, calculating or measuring the amount of carbon emissions can be fairly difficult. Even for professional calculations, approximations via standardised factors and assumptions on the quantity of emissions per unit have to be made. For company and product carbon footprints there are guidelines from international institutions on the calculation methodology. Even though product or company carbon footprints are not yet commonly published, an increasing number of companies reports on them. To find out about your personal carbon footprint there are quite some online tools and questionnaires that you can fill out to learn about the approximate amount of carbon emissions you cause per year.
No matter if it is about personal or product or company carbon emissions – usually there are always some emission causing activities that could be more or less easily reduced or avoided. Therefore, it is important to know which actions cause how many emissions or which changes could lead to the highest reduction. Companies that seek to reduce their carbon emissions usually use their carbon footprint as a basis to decide on where or how to reduce emissions.
Consequently, people who want to reduce their personal carbon footprint could start by evaluating single lifestyle decisions, estimating the magnitude of emissions caused by them and taking decisions based on that information. For example, switching the energy provider to a renewable one saves more emissions than switching off the light every time one leaves the room (even though that is a good idea too!). Another way to reduce CO2 emissions is by buying sustainable, long-lasting, timeless products instead of following seasonal trends. For example, a POLI bag made of natural sustainable raw materials like jute or leather, produced in an environmentally friendly way!
* The Author Stephanie is an Environment and Climate Change Expert. She studied in Swedish University of Agricultural Science and University of Natural Resources and Life Science (Austria) for her Master program in Environmental Science. She is based in Vienna.