Carbon footprint: calculate, reduce and offset your impact

What exactly is a carbon footprint? How is it calculated? Why should any company calculate it? Here are the answers.

Carbon Footprint 👣



July 27, 2022


Table of contents

Carbon footprint? Did you say "carbon footprint"?

This word is everywhere, when talking about environmental impact and reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And for good reason: regarding the reality of climate change, we must precisely measure the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we collectively send into the atmosphere. Otherwise, implementing targeted and effective actions will remain impossible. 💥

But what exactly is a carbon footprint? How is it calculated? Why should any company calculate it - aside from fighting against climate change?

Here are the answers. 👇

🔍 What is a carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint, definition 📗

A carbon footprint is an indicator. Its objective is to accurately measure the impact of one or more specific activities on the environment.

Concretely, the carbon footprint is the total of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by our activities.

👉 Note: thanks to carbon footprint, we can measure the greenhouse gas emissions of an individual (based on his lifestyle), company (based on its activities) or territory.

Regardless of its purpose, a carbon footprint is generally expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If this seems bizarre, you're not wrong – as carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas that we emit into the atmosphere.

💡 To recap, we emit two types of greenhouse gases: "natural" greenhouse gases (water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3), and man-made or industrial greenhouse gases (the whole halocarbon family).

However, to simplify, a "standard" related to CO2 is used for all greenhouse gases.

In other words, when we talk about CO2 equivalent (or CO2e), we talk about the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same impact – the same heating power or energy use – as the gas being converted.

Carbon footprint and carbon assessment: beware of confusion! 😲

Carbon footprint and carbon assessment mean two separate things, even if they seem similar!

A carbon footprint measures the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from an activity, generally one that produces larger carbon footprints than other activities would . On the other hand, a carbon assessment analyses these figures, in order to identify the most important sources and to propose an action plan to reduce emissions.

What are the different greenhouse gases considered with carbon footprint? 💨

Here they are:

  • carbon dioxide;
  • methane;
  • nitrous oxide;
  • hydrofluorocarbon:
  • perfluorocarbon;
  • sulphur hexafluoride.

The emissions responsible for climate change are mainly produced by human activity.

Some of the most important sources of greenhouse gases are burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal industries), electricity generation, massive deforestation, food production, intensive agriculture and mining (the extraction of metals for the batteries' manufacture, for example).

💡 What is the Kyoto Protocol? The Kyoto Protocol - signed in 1997 and entered into force in 2005 - is a protocol that set binding and quantified targets to limit and reduce greenhouse gases.

What is the difference between the carbon footprint and the ecological footprint? ❓

An ecological footprint (sometimes referred to as an "environmental footprint") measures human pressure on the Earth.

It can be translated into global hectares (hag) or number of planets. Concretely, it evaluates the land surface needed to maintain our level of consumption - and our way of life.

The ecological footprint is regularly mentioned in the news, because it allows to estimate the annual "Earth Overshoot Day" - which is when humanity has consumed all the resources that our planet is able to produce in a year. 😐

In short, our current way of life isn't sustainable – because the Earth will not be able to support these monumentally large levels of consumption.

📟 How to calculate your carbon footprint?

The calculation method 💼

The Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME, also sometimes referred to as the Ecological Transition Agency) uses a calculation method based on both physical and monetary ratios.

However, physical ratios should be used in place of monetary ratios as often as possible, because the ABC (Association bilan carbone) has delineated the risk of imprecision inherent in monetary ratios.

However, there is no question of excluding them: to estimate our greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible, it is simply better to not to abuse them.

Physical ratios

The physical emission factor measures the amount of CO2 produced per unit consumed. It can be translated as, "such activity emits on average x amount of CO2 per unit consumed".

To estimate the amount of CO2 emitted from a physical emission factor, the following calculation is performed:

Quantity of greenhouse gases emitted = Quantity consumed * Physical emission factor

NB: regarding quantity consumed, this figure will be expressed in accordance with the unit of the product concerned (kg, litres, m2, etc.).

Monetary ratios

The monetary emission factor estimates the amount of CO2 associated with a given product or service based on its price. It can be translated this way: "such product/service emits on average x amount of CO2 (kgCO2e) per x k€ before tax".

To estimate the amount of CO2 emitted from a monetary emission factor, the following calculation is performed:

Quantity of greenhouse gases emitted = Price * Monetary emission factor

un homme ids so much math

Carbon footprinting: calculation tools 🔨

Online applications

You certainly won't be surprised to see us take pride in the applications' merits designed to assess the environmental impact of their holders.

Greenly has decided to support the democratization of carbon assessment, by offering our users a fully automated method to track their greenhouse gas emissions – which is personalized given their individual expenses.

No other action is required, besides synchronizing their bank account with the platform.

Carbon calculators

Some organizations (like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) created carbon calculators on the Internet.

However, they are mainly dedicated to calculating individual's carbon footprint.

Less accurate than an application, a carbon footprint calculator is very useful if you want to have an on-the-fly estimate of your greenhouse gas emissions.

🌳 What is the carbon assessment method?

In 2004, climate engineer Jean-Marc Jancovici developed - in collaboration with ADEME - a method to help companies take stock of their carbon dioxide emissions, in order to reduce them and contribute to the fight against global warming.

The principle of the carbon assessment method is to account for all greenhouse gas emissions related to a product or service throughout its life cycle (from manufacture to end of life).

💚 Why should your company measure its carbon footprint?

Calculating your carbon footprint is not just an ethical contribution.

In addition to fighting climate change, undertaking to limit your carbon dioxide emissions is beneficial in many ways! 😍

To improve results and performance 📊

Fighting global warming by deciding to permanently reduce your carbon emissions is the starting point of a virtuous circle for your company’s profitability.

Whatever your product is, it's likely that its environmental impact isn't carbon neutral. All other exisiting opprotunites to optimize the level of your carbon emissions will be revealed while reducing the product's carbon footprint.

However, in most cases, the carbon footprint of a product is mainly related to "scope 3 emissions". In other words, to emissions' sources indirectly linked to the production of your offer. This means that they can easily be optimized.

Less spending and more savings. 💵

To meet consumers' expectations 🙋‍♀️

As we approach a future world that aims to mitigate climate change whenever possible, calculating a product’s carbon footprint will become a worthwhile competitive advantage.

Calculating the amount of carbon emissions related to your product can help you stand out from your competitors.

In fact, this approach answers a real demand from a part of the society. People want to know the impact of their consumption on the environment, in order to make choices in accordance with their wish to contribute to the fight against climate change.

However, households often have little or no access to this information. That's why they are now demanding for brands' "transparency".

To hire its employees 👊

Your employees are consumers, too.

If you want to engage your employees, and promote your employer brand among the younger generations - often the most concerned about global warming - calculating the carbon footprint of your products is an good option.

By illustrating your concerns about your carbon emissions' reduction, you will not only present yourself as a transparent brand and a trustworthy employer – but you will also become a company aligned with societal issues as they evolve.

To anticipate legislative developments 📜

Regardless of any ethical considerations, the calculation of your carbon footprint is gradually emerging as an obligation for any player in the economy.

Given the emergency embodied by climate change, the legislation is gradually tightening - in the United States and abroad. The management of our emissions is rapidly becoming widespread.

Companies that are not concerned about their carbon footprint are gradually penalized by the law in many countries. 😶

To attract new investors and financing 💵

Sustainable finance is not a myth. However, climate is now a risk – including for investors.

On the one hand, climate change is causing more and more disasters that could damage business activity. On the other hand, structures that disregard their carbon footprint are now likely to be sanctioned - by the law and by the consumers.

Two bleak prospects for potential investors… ❌

Our advice: if you want to increase your chances of potential opportunities for financing, do not neglect your carbon footprint.

🌺 How can you reduce your daily carbon footprint?

There are many carbon footprint reduction opportunities.

Simple actions can be taken that also contribute to the fight against climate change. If we all go in the same direction, what appear today as "small" gestures will ultimately have a colossal impact.

Shall we get started? 🤠

Methods to reduce your personal carbon footprint 🏡

Sort and reduce the volume of your waste

Sorting waste and trying to reduce its volume is a very easy way to reduce a household's carbon footprint. Apart from any economic considerations.

Whether you have a high or modest income, everyone can manage to sort their own waste and not easily discard it where it doesn't need to go – like putting a plastic bottle in the recycling bin instead of the trash can.

Fighting food waste and cutting back on overconsumption

If you want to reduce your individual's carbon footprint, you can:

  • Buy better (eat local, seasonal and vegetarian meal (or at least less meat))
  • Consume better (without wasting)
  • Discard better (as little as possible and think about recycling).

👉 Note: if you really cannot stop eating meat, try to switch to less carbon intensive meats (chicken rather than beef, for example).

Take the time to reflect and compare products you may purchase when you go to the supermarket. Consult the energy performance indicators, recycling indicators, etc.

Finally, second-hand markets are a good way to consume more sustainably – and to buy cheap and responsibly while also giving many products a second life.

Optimize your energy usage

Unplug your appliances and don’t let them sit on stand by, turn off the light when leaving a room, try to conserve the use of heating or air conditioning…

These gestures may seem innocuous. Of course, electricity does not emit CO2 per se. But its production does.

Methods to reduce your company's carbon footprint 🏢

Promoting eco-friendly actions among its employees

Everyday life in a company is not very different from everyday life at home regarding sustainable development.

It is easy to implement "eco-gestures" and to promote them towards the employees.

Among the simplest gestures:

  • systematically turn off the light when leaving the meeting rooms;
  • turn off computers instead of keeping them on standby all night;
  • limit the use of printers;
  • don’t abuse email accounts, especially if you include heavy attachments;
  • etc.

Identify and stop unnecessary spending

For instance, is it really necessary for each of your departments to have a printer?

If you want to encourage your teams to reduce the number of their impressions, wouldn’t it be wise to stop any more equipment dedicated to this task?

In the same way, try - wherever possible - to restrict the use of plastic in your company. Coffee machine cups? There are many alternatives: cardboard models, corporate mugs, etc.

Restrict business travel

Especially if these movements involve the use of extremely polluting means of transport (aircraft, for example).

In addition, do not hesitate to support your teams in the organization of their daily commute to work. If a public transportation station is nearby, do not hesitate to invest in a mobility package that will give them access to this service at a lower cost.

Prefer the use of renewable energy

To improve our energy efficiency, we must reduce our energy consumption, but also encourage the use of renewable energy.

This will allow us to emit fewer emissions, thanks to natural sources which are replenished more than consumed (like sunlight and wind).

Indeed, electricity generation from wind power is not responsible for direct carbon emissions.

Moreover, do not hesitate to prefer energy efficient lighting in your headquarters.

👉 Note: freeing us from our dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) is non-negotiable for climate experts. If we do not stop to use fossil fuels, tackling global warming will be impossible.

🤷‍♀️ Should carbon offsetting (or carbon sequestration) be used to reduce carbon emissions?

What is carbon sequestration? In short, the idea is to help financing environmental projects to balance the amount of our greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, supporting the creation of new “carbon sinks” to absorb carbon released into the atmosphere, with a view to achieving carbon neutrality.

As a company, it is possible to help finance carbon sinks to offset GHG emissions (by planting trees, for example).

Greenly is particularly committed to the approach of carbon offsets through various projects, both locally and internationally:

  • the Gandhi project, synonymous with the installation of wind turbines in India (to reduce the country’s carbon intensity in terms of electricity production);
  • the Floresta de Portel project, for the protection of the forest of the state of Parà in Brazil, threatened by deforestation.

💥 However, carbon offsets should not be an incentive to maintain emissions levels. To date, reducing our carbon footprint is an absolute necessity. In fact, the carbon sinks themselves saturate under the influx of GHG emissions. The oceans, for example, are no longer able to absorb CO2.

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Arnaud Delubac

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