Wondering how large a carbon footprint you and your family are leaving on the planet? You do not need to be a scientist or engineer to estimate your family’s environmental impact. With just a few simple pieces of information and handy online calculators, you can quickly and easily learn how to calculate your individual or household carbon footprint.
What is a carbon footprint? It is important to first understand exactly what is meant by a carbon footprint before trying to calculate or estimate one. The term describes the sum of the carbon dioxide emissions generated, or the carbon footprint left behind, by a person’s lifestyle, daily activities and energy usage. The footprint comes from primary activities, such as home energy and transportation usage, as well as from secondary activities, such as dietary habits and waste disposal habits.
What is the easiest way to calculate an individual carbon footprint? There are a number of online calculators available to allow individuals to estimate a carbon footprint. Some are very basic, such as the calculator offered by Yahoo! Green, requesting general information from the user and making assumptions based on state and national averages and energy data. Other calculators, such as the one available from the United States EPA gather detailed information, such as exact data from utility bills, actual miles driven, and in-depth information regarding recycling habits, diet and consumer product usage. More detailed calculators consider both primary and secondary carbon emissions in the estimates.
How do the carbon footprint calculators work? Each activity measured has a standard unit of carbon dioxide emissions associated with it per a set rate or volume of resources used by the activity. For example, driving a vehicle uses gasoline and emits carbon dioxide in the exhaust. The calculators gather details regarding the number of miles driven by a vehicle and the fuel efficiency of the vehicle-and use that information to determine how many gallons of gasoline are burned by the vehicle during the miles driven. The volume of gasoline used is then multiplied by a constant representing the typical pounds of carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of a known volume of gasoline. While all of these calculations can be performed by hand–the online calculators automatically retrieve and insert the relevent standards, emission factors and unit conversions for you.
What information will you need to calculate your carbon footprint? Basic calculators ask for only vague details about household size, household type, vehicle type and mileage, plus other public transportation usage information. More in-depth calculators will require information available from utility bills, vehicle mileage, and knowledge of household diet, consumption, and recycling habits.
Are carbon footprint calculators accurate? As with any calculator, environmental impact calculators are only as accurate as the information input. Be as honest and detailed as possible in your data entry and verify that the calculator uses emission constants, rates, and assumptions from reliable sources.
What are some reliable carbon footprint calculators? The United States EPA calculators offer tools to determine individual, household, personal and transportation footprints-all using government data and statistics from verifiable resources. TerraPass also uses similar governmental and educational resources and data in its calculator. If you seek more general estimates, the calculator from Yahoo! Green looks at state and national averages and statistics from valid resources relative to home energy and transportation impact.
Greenhouse Gas Protocol
US EPA Climate Change and Waste Tools
Personal Experience as an Environmental Consultant and Solid/Hazardous Waste Engineer