Carbon footprint: definition and calculation method

What is the carbon footprint? How to calculate it? What are the solutions to reduce it? How can we have an impact on positive climate change? The answers in this article.

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What is the carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint: definition

Thecarbon footprint is an indicator that accounts for GHGs (greenhouse gases) emitted by human activity. Their concentration in the atmosphere traps solar radiation refracted onto the earth's surface. They are thus partly responsible for global warming.

Thecarbon footprint is expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). GHGs all have a different global warming power (GWP). This indicator is therefore a way of standardizing the reading of these impacts since they are expressed as a volume of CO2 retaining the same amount of solar radiation.


Carbon footprint: definition

The different greenhouse gases

There are three types of greenhouse gases:

  • Domestic GHGs (fuels, heating, electricity consumption, etc.) ;
  • GHG of the country's domestic production ;
  • GHGs from imported production.

These emissions come from various human practices and activities: combustion of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal), deforestation, intensive agriculture, mining (extraction of metals for the manufacture of batteries, jewellery, etc.), among others.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has identified over 40 greenhouse gases. The GHGs with the highest emissions are the following:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2);
  • Methane (CH4) ;
  • Ozone (O3) ;
  • Nitrous oxide (N20) ;
  • Fluorinated gases: Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), Perfluorocarbon (PFC), Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).


Carbon footprint vs. carbon footprint

"Carbon footprint" and "carbon footprint" are two closely related concepts, but they do not refer to the same thing. Thecarbon footprint is the trace of GHGs that we leave behind in our production and consumption. The carbon footprint, on the other hand, is the analysis of the GHGs emitted by our various activities.

In other words, it allows us to take stock of the CO2 generated by each of our actions. It is a means of targeting the areas where a reduction in the carbon footprint is necessary.

How to calculate the personal carbon footprint?

To calculate our personal carbon footprint, the French ecological transition agency ADEME offers a method based on physical and monetary factors. Other methods and online tools are also available to measure our GHG emissions.

Personal carbon footprint

The methodology for calculating your daily carbon footprint

Physical ratios

In the case of a physical emission factor, the amount of CO2 released per unit consumed can be specified. This applies to transport or agricultural production, among others. For example, consuming a full tank of petrol (50 litres) is equivalent to emitting 114 kg of CO2.

Monetary ratios

A monetary emissions factor allows the CO2 content generated by a product or service to be estimated from its price. It is expressed in kg CO2e / K € excl. tax and applies to activities and products that cannot be calculated using physical factors. This is the case for a computer or electronic product, for example.

Online tools

These calculation methods are still complicated, especially when it comes to monetary factors. Various organisations have developed online tools to help us assess our GHG emissions. Here are some of them:

  • Ecolab (ADEME) ;
  • GoodPlanet ;
  • MicMac (Climate Future) ;
  • A2DM.


Applications to calculate your carbon footprint

From Karbon to measure the carbon footprint of our food to 90 days to help us improve our impact on the environment, many applications to calculate our carbon footprint have emerged in recent years. However, the most innovative approach is the one proposed by Greenly: the automatic calculation of CO2 emissions based on bank spending.

Indeed, the Greenly calculator is based on each of your expenses to categorise them and indicate their precise environmental impact. So you know the CO2 emissions of your telephone subscription, your car journeys or your lunch. The Greenly application goes further: it offers you an eco-responsible alternative for each of your purchases.

Greenly Application

A tagging system for expenses

In order to calculate your carbon footprint as accurately as possible, Greenly has set up a system for tagging your expenses. You can specify a purchase by assigning it a label which will then allow it to be categorised and its impact calculated. This tagging system allows you to develop optimal calculation coefficients for each categorized expense.

Carbon footprint for businesses

The corporate carbon footprint has been mandatory since 2016 regardless of their activity. Greenly assists them in carrying out this assessment.

The carbon footprint method

Jean-Marc Jancovici, a climate engineer, and ADEME have developed a reliable method for drawing up a carbon balance. It consists of accounting for all the GHG emissions of a product or service consumed, throughout its existence.

The Greenly methodology is based on two aspects:

  • Bank expenses: thanks to secure bank synchronisation, your expenses are analysed to calculate the associated CO2 emissions.
  • Defining your profile: you answer a series of questions about your consumption habits (equipment, food, etc.) to determine the emissions.

This data can then give an accurate indication of your carbon footprint and help you reduce it.

The regulatory GHG balance

The regulatory GHG balance or "simplified carbon footprint" reports on direct greenhouse gas emissions and indirect energy-related emissions. It is compulsory for a certain number of public and private actors to carry out this assessment. ADEME also recommends that a balance sheet be drawn up for indirect emissions not related to energy, as these are in the majority in companies.

Who is affected?

A simplified carbon footprint in France is mandatory for :

  • companies with 500 employees or more (250 employees or more for the DOM);
  • local authorities with more than 50,000 inhabitants;
  • State services;
  • public institutions with more than 250 employees.

Mandatory GHG assessment


It must be carried out every 4 years for the private sector and every 3 years for local authorities, government departments and public institutions.

Why calculate your carbon footprint?

Strengthen your brand image

Beyond the concern for climate change, a full carbon footprint can be beneficial to a company in many ways. It allows to :

  • save money and spend better;
  • raise awareness among your employees;
  • communicate with your community and employees on the issue of carbon footprint;
  • to raise awareness and attract the talent of tomorrow;
  • enrich your non-financial reporting.

Moreover, it is a way of anticipating future legislative changes. The CCC (Citizens' Climate Convention) is suggesting that companies be obliged to provide an annual carbon report. It even proposes the application of financial penalties if a company's carbon emissions change.


Which solution should I choose to carry out a corporate carbon assessment?

Carrying out a certified corporate carbon footprint takes time and expertise. It is therefore advisable to entrust it to a trusted professional. However, this process can be very costly depending on the type of service provider chosen.

  1. Specialist firms

To do this, companies can therefore call on a specialised firm to calculate their emissions. Specialised firms also offer to draw up their clients' CSR strategy. However, offering their services comes at a significant cost. A company's carbon footprint generally costs between 10 000 and 30 000 euros.

  1. The Greenlyonline tool

Simple and fluid, the Greenly online management tool is 5 times less expensive than a specialist consultant. It synchronises with the company's bank account to provide an automatic and accurate report. Greenly thus offers tailor-made plans and solutions adapted to companies in order to efficiently build up their carbon footprint and reduce their GHG emissions.

Corporate carbon footprint with Greenly

Carbon footprint by sector in France

The carbon footprint in France is estimated at 11.9 tonnes of CO2e per person in 2020.

Transport is the sector with the highest emissions: 2.9 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. This is due in particular to the heavy use of the car. Four out of five journeys are made by car, with only 1.5 passengers on average. To get a clearer picture, here is the carbon footprint of the main French economic sectors:


In second place, housing is a major source of GHG emissions. Heating, daily use, water treatment, building construction, waste management: all these elements must be taken into account in reducing our carbon footprint.

In third place, consumer goods, especially electronic equipment, add to the balance sheet. Their production requires significant extraction of minerals (notably for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries). And their use requires an increased consumption of electricity...

Finally, the agro-food production of proteins (beef, pork or chicken) also represents a significant share of GHG emissions. In fact, each French person eats an average of 65 kg of meat per year, compared to 43 kg for the rest of the world...

Carbon footprint comparison

By type of transport

Transport is the largest part of our carbon footprint. To get an idea of the impact of our travel, here are the details of GHG emissions by type of transport:



By type of energy

In France, more than 90% of the electricity produced is decarbonised. However, other types of energy are more harmful to the environment. The CO2 emissions for each type of energy are as follows:



The carbon footprint of different countries

According to the 2020 report by energy transition company BP, the ten countries with the highest CO2 emissions are

  • China (9.8 million tonnes) ;
  • United States (4.9 million tonnes) ;
  • India (2.4 million tonnes) ;
  • Russia (1.5 million tonnes) ;
  • Japan (1.1 million tonnes) ;
  • Germany (0.68 million tonnes) ;
  • Iran (0.67 million tonnes) ;
  • South Korea (0.64 million tonnes) ;
  • Saudi Arabia (0.58 million tonnes) ;
  • Canada (0.56 million tonnes).

Note that when considering the footprint per capita, Qatar comes first...

Qatar's carbon footprint

How to reduce your carbon footprint?

Fortunately, reducing one's carbon footprint is largely possible and easier than one might think, thanks in part to the online tools available to individuals and businesses.

In everyday life

Identify your biggest consumption factors

With online tools such as GoodPlanet or Ecolab (ADEME), you can estimate your biggest sources of GHG emissions that will impact your carbon footprint. However, the Greenly application remains the most suitable to reduce your carbon footprint on a daily basis in an efficient way. Indeed, thanks to the bank synchronisation, your GHG emissions are calculated in real time according to your expenses. Eco-responsible alternatives are then proposed for each of them. Consuming better to protect the planet becomes easier. Tempting, isn't it?

Adopt eco-gestures

Simple practices that you can incorporate into your daily life can also reduce your carbon footprint and your CO2 emissions:

  • Favouring cleaner modes of transport (public transport, bicycles and electric scooters, carpooling, etc.);
  • recycle as soon as possible (waste, textiles and objects);
  • Opt for second-hand goods (clothes, smartphones, computers, books, etc.);
  • buy products without packaging or over-packaging;
  • fight against energy loss (unplug phone chargers, use plugs with switches, etc.);
  • curb over-consumption in favour of necessity (do I really need it or do I just want it?).

By adopting a few of these practices, you will already be a very good actor of environmental preservation.

Adopt cycling as an eco-gesture

Favouring sustainable consumption

These practices are part of a sustainable and therefore more responsible mode of consumption. Sustainable consumption in 3 points is :

  • better purchasing (green products) ;
  • better consumption (without waste and in a sustainable way);
  • better disposal (as little as possible and recycling).

Sustainable consumption in everyday life is possible by favouring certain products and practices:

  • Household appliances, digital products, etc. More and more retailers are fighting against planned obsolescence and therefore offering sustainable products. More and more brands are fighting against programmed obsolescence and are therefore offering sustainable products. This is the case for brands such as Panasonic, Sony, Miele and Faure. Thanks to the site produitsdurables.fr, you can compare the longevity of the different brands on the market for all types of products.
  • Food and hygiene: opt for organic, natural and local products. More and more supermarkets are offering organic brands or products from local producers. Alternatively, you can visit specialised stores such as Biocoop, La Vie Claire or Naturalia.

Applications to combat food waste have also emerged. For example, Phénix or To Good To Go allow people to buy food products that are close to their use-by date and therefore need to be removed from the shelves at low prices.

Finally, the second-hand market is a good way to consume in a sustainable way. Sites such as Le Bon Coin, Vinted for clothes or Backmarket for reconditioned electronic products make it possible to buy at low prices in a responsible way.

Going green with your savings

This mode of consumption also concerns the financial world. Sustainable finance is based on an ethical vision of investment and savings. Its aim is to achieve economic performance with positive social and environmental impacts.

A mobile application has been developed for this purpose: Rift. It allows users to see how their savings are invested and to measure their carbon impact. Banks also offer sustainable financing through different models: green finance, social business or SRI (socially responsible investment). Your banker will be able to guide you in the best way to save and invest on request.

Financing sustainable development


How to invest and have a positive impact?

1. I invest in positive impact ETFs

Do you want to invest without too much effort? ETFs are the solution. These baskets of shares allow you to diversify your investments simultaneously. Thanks to EFT selectors such as Ark Invest or Track Insight, you can target those that focus on companies' environmental strategies. You can also focus on future environmentally friendly innovations.

2. I invest in positive impact companies via robo-advisors

Robo-advisors are an even simpler way to make positive impact investments. These robo-advisors manage your stock portfolio in an automated way. You then choose how much of your portfolio you want to invest in responsible investments. Here are some of them:

  • My Little Investment ;
  • Nalo ;
  • Cashbee.

3. Choose the projects I want to invest in

If you want to have full control over your investments, you can of course choose which projects to invest in yourself. You can do this by using traditional investment platforms that measure the environmental impact of the projects. Alternatively, you can opt for platforms such as Miimosa that offer to invest in environmental projects related to agriculture and food.


For companies

Carrying out a carbon assessment

Carrying out a carbon audit is the best way for companies to significantly reduce their GHG consumption and emissions. Targeting the most important emission centres and adopting alternative means to reduce their activity, while providing access to the data, is the most appropriate solution for them. This is especially true as they involve a number of people and devices (digital, electrical, etc.). Reducing the carbon footprint is therefore of particular concern to them. To do this, they must turn to a service provider authorised to carry out a carbon assessment according to the ADEME method, such as Greenly.

Carbon offsetting as a last resort

The idea of carbon offsetting is to set up "carbon sinks" to absorb the emissions emitted in order to achieve carbon neutrality. This can be achieved through investment in renewable energy or by planting trees, for example.

Greenly is particularly committed to this offsetting approach, both locally and internationally, through the various mobilisation projects it has set up:

  • Gandhi project: installation of wind turbines in India to reduce the carbon intensity of the country's electricity production.
  • Floresta de Portel project: protection of the forest in the state of Parà (Brazil) threatened by deforestation. This forest is home to a rich ecosystem that is unique in the world.
  • Ugastoves project: distribution of cooking ovens in Uganda to replace the traditional method of cooking, based on the combustion of oil.


Offsetting does not mean that reducing our carbon footprint is not necessary. It is a complementary response to the environmental issues we face today. So, now that you know all about the carbon footprint, will you become a player in environmental protection? It's up to you to act.

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