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Carbon footprint

To limit climate change, it will be essential for each of us to reduce carbon footprint individually and collectively. As the principal greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, the term carbon footprint is used to describe this impact which is related to the amount of gas(es) emitted by any use of energy. The greater the emissions, the larger is the footprint and so this concept enables us to determine which activities have a high impact and to identify alternatives which will have a lower footprint.

Our carbon footprint comprises two parts – one part is associated primarily with our own use of energy and the other part which is associated with the food that we eat, the products we use or the clothes that we buy; this is called the ‘embedded’ part. The embedded part arises from the energy used with growing crops or extracting raw materials, processing and/or manufacture and the transport associated from point of manufacture to place of use. It is much more difficult to calculate as it requires knowledge of the energy usage and other inputs along the supply chain from growing or extracting raw materials to purchasing a product. Buying products produced locally will certainly reduce the emissions associated with transport. Some calculations show that these two parts are roughly similar in size for those living in Europe.

Annual energy consumption and carbon emissions

On average, each person in the UK is responsible for the equivalent of 13.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide.This includes both our direct use of energy such as in transport or heating our homes, but also the indirect usage through the energy embedded in products or services we use. This analysis has been undertaken by Mike Berners-Lee in the Burning Question (Profile Books, 2013) and is collated in Table 5.1.

Average energy use (kWh) and carbon emissions (kg CO2)

Table 5.1: Average energy use (kWh) and carbon emissions (kg CO2) per person per year

Many websites offer tools to help you measure your carbon footprint. Most focus on direct emissions such as energy bills and fuel consumption while ignoring indirect emissions associated with products and services.

Sites worth exploring are:




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