How to Reduce and Calculate Personal Carbon Footprint?

reduce calculate carbon footprint

When the word carbon footprint is heard I usually think of the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels. Although somewhat true, the complete definition described by (Weidmann, 2007) of Carbon Footprint (CF) is the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted in equivalent CO2 due to direct and indirect actions of an activity or on a product[i]. Calculating one’s individual carbon emissions is important as human activities are producing large quantities of CO2. According to Climate Change report[ii] CO2 levels have increased 250 % that were present before industrial revolution. I have set out to find my carbon footprint on the environment.

How to Reduce and Calculate Personal Carbon Footprint

Coming from a developing country I assumed that my CF will be slightly greater than an  average human being and certainly higher than my fellow country man due to my lifestyle.  I was surprised to see the result after calculating in detail my carbon footprint was way higher than I expected from an average human being. My carbon footprint for the calendar year of 2015 was 19394 kilograms (kgs) of CO2. While the average carbon footprint per person in my country is around 1974 kgs and on average a human contributes 3791 kgs of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The following table 1 breaks down my carbon emissions.

  Me My Region (Pakistan)
Transportation 14321 kgs 151 kgs
Home 3169 kgs 269 kgs
Food 1654 kgs 1488 kgs
Purchases 250 kgs 66 kgs
Total 19394 kgs 1974 kgs


To reduce my carbon footprint by 12.5 % I would have to subtract roughly 2500 kgs of CO2 equivalent. I started to reduce from transportation. The car I use for my transportation uses 8.3 litres of petrol for 100 km which has a very low fuel economy as these days cars are delivering a fuel economy of even 5.5 L/100 km. By buying a new car or increasing the car efficiency to 6 litres for 100 km I will save 770 kgs of Carbon dioxide.

Air flights have high CO2 emission and the US Energy Information Administration suggests that on average burning 1 gallon jet fuel releases 9.57 kgs of Carbon dioxide.[iii] I found out by quantitative analysis that if my flights had been non-stop I could have saved 332 kgs of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. So by taking these two actions alone in transportation I can reduce 1100 kgs of CO2.

According to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2013[iv] 10 % of CO2 emissions come from residential & commercial sector in the United States. Major sources of carbon dioxide emission form house come from maintaining temperature. In Pakistan the winter season is of 3 months and natural gas is burnt via heaters to keep the house warm. Luckily, burning gas/fuel oil is one of the least CO2 producing sources if compared to electricity, wood and coal. Table 2 below shows the comparison between using different types of fuel to heat water.

Type of Fuel CO2 Emitted
Natural Gas/ Fuel Oil 2579 kgs
Electricity 2594 kgs
Wood 5647 kgs
Coal 8676 kgs


Similarly lighting up the house consumes electricity and in my house I have installed a mixture of Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) light bulbs. If I replace all the CFL light bulbs with LED bulbs I will save 251 kgs of CO2. And, by correcting my habit to always turning the lights off when I leave for work I save an additional 225 kgs of CO2.

Heating up the water also consumes a lot of energy which in turn results in a bigger footprint. The present system of generating warm water by geysers is outdated and this system in my house alone emits 1160 kgs of CO2. If I install an electric water heater and reduce my shower time from 11-15 minutes to 5-10 minutes I save up to 800 kgs of CO2. This action will reduce a huge amount of CO2 emissions. By being more sensitive I can further reduce 113 kgs of CO2 just by turning the water off while washing the dishes.  Even reducing the waste produced at our home can reduce Carbon in the air. This is due to the fact that when waste decomposes methane is produced and this gas is a very potent greenhouse gas. So to reduce my carbon footprint I would have start reusing, recycling and strive towards waste minimization. This can be done in many different ways such as using reusable water bottles, taking cloth bags to grocery and by making worn out clothes as dust & mop cleaners. All these little things can have an impact and if I reduce my waste from 2 five gallons worth of solid waste bags to 1 five gallons I can save 53 kgs of carbon. Hence by reducing energy consumption in my home I can save around 1442 kgs of carbon dioxide.

So by only changing certain things in my transportation and how a house runs I can reduce by carbon footprint by 12.5 %. I can further reduce CF by radically altering my food habits i.e. by becoming a vegetarian I can substantially reduce 820 kgs of CO2 emissions.

To meet the 80 % reduction in CF by 2050 will require a huge transformation in lifestyle in order meet that target set by the government. If I critically analyse my carbon footprint I see that the over 70% of Carbon Footprint generated is through burning of fossil fuels for transportation and further bifurcation of my transport, the airplane flights alone leave an carbon footprint of 11361 kgs. Basically, 60 % of carbon footprint came from the two flights I took in 2015. The only way to significantly reduce my carbon footprint is by not making these flights which I took for educational proposes. The other thing which is possible to drastically reduce carbon emissions is to invest in renewable energy such as installing solar geysers to warm water, solar panels to produce electricity and water conservation devices. These actions will lower my carbon footprint by 1500 kgs as my electricity generated will be from a clean source so the CO2 emission resulting from heating the house(1160kgs) and cooling the house (377 kgs) will become negligible.

The international student carbon footprint calculator is a good tool in calculating carbon footprint of a student. However, it does not consider all the relevant activities to make an accurate measurement of Carbon footprint. One of the things I found missing which I believe is essential in Carbon Footprints calculations is to consider the source of electricity generation of that region. For example electricity generated from a renewable energy will definitely have a less carbon footprint than electricity generated by coal. Secondly, many homes have installed solar panels to generate electricity but the calculator does not take this factor into consideration while calculating CF.

While comparing different calculators I found some calculators gave an option to multiply the CO2 emission by Radiative Forcing factor which is required in in calculation of CO2 from airplane flights. This factor is basically defined by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[v] as “radiative forcing of the surface-troposphere system due to the perturbation in or the introduction of an agent (say, a change in greenhouse gas concentrations) “. Secondly, for calculation of CO2 emission from houses I believe if the software had asked about the whole electricity consumed (which can be read by through the electricity bill) for a month or year it would have given a far more accurate result rather than calculating individual use of electronic products (air conditioners, television, laptops etc.). The CO2 emission calculated for air flight is way too high if compared to other calculators[vi]. For my one way flight from Islamabad to Newcastle (8480 km) my carbon footprint was 5508 kgs or 5.5 ton however if I used calculator of Conservation International it calculates 3.1 tonnes of CO2 emitted.

Overall, the calculator’s strength lies in depth it gives to the operator in minute things such as the amount of CO2 emitted for leaving a TV on standby, leaving the water running while washing the dishes and by adjusting your diet plan. Furthermore, given the detail in which the activities information is required from the user, the interface is quite easy, unimposing and user-friendly. I believe it is a great tool for people to learn about what they are contributing to the environment through this software.

[i] Wiedmann, T. and Minx, J. (2008). A Definition of ‘Carbon Footprint’. In: C. C. Pertsova, Ecological Economics Research Trends: Chapter 1, pp. 1-11, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge NY, USA.

[ii] IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA





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