Understanding Carbon Footprints, the calculation of Carbon Footprints and how we can reduce them

BuzzOnEarth is an online publication on environmental sustainability and human wellness, focused on creating positive impact. BoE aims to bridge the knowledge gap and act as a catalyst in accelerating sustainable development.

Pollution and environmental degradation have been typical of the modern world to do what we in common parlance call “making ends meet”. While one can definitely not debate this, yet it will not be an exaggeration to say that this excuse has literally been abused. 

Given that there was no objective way to quantify the damage done, the economies continued with their resource exploitation.

However, with climate change, ecosystem degradation and other such concerns glaring in the past few decades, it was imperative that the global bodies formulated a concrete way of measuring these harmful impacts

Out of this necessity was born the concept of Carbon Footprints.

Defining Carbon Footprints

The concept of Carbon Footprints was given in the early 1990s by Canadian Ecologist William Rees and Swiss-born regional planner Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia. 

Carbon Footprints is defined as the amount of carbon dioxide(CO2 ) emitted by an organization or activity. Carbon dioxide production is usually the repercussion of various industrial and individual activities such as the burning of fuels, industrial waste, deforestation, usage of non-renewable sources of energy, etc. Carbon emanation from such activities accumulates in the atmosphere in the absence of enough bio-capacity to absorb the same. This, in turn, poses a threat to the ‘Ecological footprint’ of the system. (An ecological footprint is defined as the total area of land required to sustain an activity or population)

Carbon emission can be classified into two forms 

Direct Emission

pertains to the sources that are owned or controlled by the industries, for example, emissions from combustion in owned and controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles, fossil fuel combustion, etc. 

Indirect Emission

Emissions from sources upstream or downstream from the process being studied essentially fall in this category. Examples of indirect emission include transportation of material/fuel, any energy used outside the production facility, waste outside production facility, etc.

Both of these emissions have specific data points allotted to them which help in the calculation of the total carbon footprint of a particular industry at a specific level and the country at a broader level. In the section below, we shall see how Carbon Footprints are calculated

The Factors to Consider for Carbon Footprint Calculation

While quantifying the damage and hence measuring carbon footprints hasn’t had as far-reaching effects as expected, yet it has made the nations feel answerable to global authorities. In addition to this, the carbon footprints trade has also resulted in the developing and also carbon-positive nations to add to their economy by selling their additional footprints.

India for one has been amongst the greatest beneficiaries of this.

That being said, let us look at the few things which impact the level of carbon footprints that an individual, an organisation or a country leaves behind.

Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) Emissions

The emission of greenhouse gases has led to the depletion of the ozone layer in the atmospheric periphery of the earth. The ozone layer acts as a protective shield against the harmful ultra-violet rays of the sun and its depletion has been one of the major reasons behind global warming. Hence, it was imperative that GHG emissions were to be chosen as the major deciding factor for Carbon Footprint calculation.

The Average Lifestyle

Human habits, which might seem trivial and insignificant, such as increased AC temperature, refrigerator usage, or even taking the two-wheeler to a shop just 200m away have also contributed to increased emissions of pollutants and soot other than the usual greenhouse gases. Consequently, the average living standards of the people are also taken into account while calculating the carbon footprints.

Disturbance in the Foodchain

Starting from deforestation to the hunting and killing of animals, the food chain has been significantly impacted by mindless human activities. The impact of that cannot be seen on the environment directly but it ends up showing in the form of pests increasing in number or algal bloom or any other similar thing. This eventually harms the overall ecological balance.

Carbon Footprint Calculation

First, let us clarify one very common misconception. A carbon footprint is totally different from a country’s per capita emissions. From industrial waste to usage of air-conditioners, everything contributes to the release of carbon dioxide and other Green House Gasses (GHGs), which consequently lead to the degradation of the environmental conditions in general. These GHGs also impact the sustainability and development of a nation’s progress, on ecological terms. 

The biggest problem with carbon footprint calculation, however, lies in the very reason for its requirement. The reason is the highly volatile environmental factors and the inability or limited ability to quantify them. Thereby, no standardized practice could have been developed on similar lines.

One of the carbon footprint calculation methods which we have found to be widely used across industries can be accessed here

You can also calculate your personal footprints by the method which ShrinkTheFootprints mentions really well in their article that can be accessed here

Steps that can reduce Carbon Footprints

The first step for the redemption of environmental degradation due to carbon emission is to learn the 5R’s of consumption namely, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot, and Recycle.

  • Refuse: Single-use plastics and paper products.
  • Reduce: Downsize what you purchase, be mindful of customer behaviour & shopping choices.
  • Reuse: Repairing and upcycling existing resources or commodities.
  • Rot: Usages of biodegradable food items.
  • Recycle: Convert waste into reusable material.

Changing the Modes of Transportation

Cars and vehicles emit a substantial amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which essentially leads to creating a huge carbon footprint. Thus it is advisable to choose eco-friendly modes of transport such as walking, cycling, etc.

Water Conservation

It is noteworthy here that 95% of earth water is too salty for human consumption. Two third of remaining freshwater is locked away in polar ice glaciers and permanent snow. So a prudent usage of water and water conservation proves to be the need of the hour to protect the environment. With the impending water shortage, this is one factor which is easy to do and too critical to avoid!

Switching to sustainable clean energy sources

Resources available on earth, are limited and have alternative usages too. Conventional energy sources such as fossil fuels are detrimental to ecological health. While a lot of effort is being put into experimentation and generation of alternative energy sources, it is high time that the same is taken seriously enough. While countries like India, New Zealand etc are working towards it, it is important that more and more nations become a party to this effort


We have seen how the term carbon footprints is loosely used by people without understanding what it means. We have also seen how some of us think that Carbon footprint is the major devastating cause for concern. However, it isn’t. It is just a quantitative measure to put all the damage together so that we can see what is going wrong and then work towards it.

We hope this article helped in clearing that confusion! click here to read more on How to reduce carbon footprint.

If you feel that we missed out on anything, please feel free to write back to us on editorial@buzzonearth.com!

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