How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

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Most people have heard the term “carbon footprint” but far fewer know what it is and how to determine it.

First, it is essential to define exactly what is meant by the term “carbon footprint.” A useful formal definition is provided by the UK Carbon Trust: “A ‘carbon footprint’ measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organization, event or product.”

It is important to recognize that your carbon footprint is not determined by simply looking at your daily activities and adding up all the carbon emissions that result directly. Secondary emissions are an important part of the calculation, as well. Those secondary emissions result from a variety of actions, including many that you probably never considered before. For example, food preferences, buying imported food and goods or locally produced items, the amount of packaging materials that come with your purchases, your use of electrical appliances, how much recycling you do, how you spend your vacation and recreational time, and many others.

Currently, the global average stands at roughly six tons per person per year, but in the United States that figure leaps to more than 20 tons per person each year.

Why such a massive difference? In the United States (and in most industrialized countries), people drive their cars around 15,000 miles a year on average, emitting a substantial amount of greenhouse gases. Americans also heat and cool their homes more, and use more energy with their household appliances. Americans consume larger quantities of meat and rely on conveniences such as bottled water to a greater degree than people in other countries. Taken together, these factors all cause increased energy consumption, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and greater waste generation. All that leads to an increase in the average individual carbon footprint.

To get a good estimate of your carbon footprint, there is a great resource on the internet: the carbon footprint calculator. To do the calculation, go to this site:

Then, follow the step-by-step instructions. You can also calculate your water footprint and then reduce it as well.

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January 2023