Basic Principles of the Carbon Footprint Calculator
What is a carbon footprint calculator? The sources of carbon emissions from a single person is traceable back to three major categories: consumption patterns, direct energy use patterns, and transportation patterns.
Three major categories of carbon emission sources for an individual
Consumption meaning not only food items but the purchase of goods vs services, where the former generally emits more carbon and the latter less; direct energy use meaning mostly heating and cooling; and transportation including long distance plane flights, short distance commuting, and even walking and cycling.
Each of these activities have been estimated for their carbon emission, though most carbon calculators won’t go into very specific detail like the model of the plane you flew or the brand of the air conditioner you installed. Therefore, these broad categories and each individual’s involvement in them can be turned into estimates of an individual’s carbon emissions.
Review of online carbon footprint calculators
There’s been a proliferation of carbon footprint calculators. Here at Shrink That Footprint we provide a list of them a brief review.
Carbon Footprint is a consultancy that has made their own online calculator. One nice thing in their calculator is they let you input your country (and even state if applicable) so you can compare to an appropriate average and see units of measurement that you’re familiar with.
Therefore this is good for anyone around the world to use. They break down the major categories into “house” which contains all the heating and cooling energy use, and then four modes of transportation “flights”, “cars”, “motorbikes”, “bus & rail”, and finally consumption patterns in a category called “secondary”.
The US government has created their own carbon calculator. The EPA designed its calculator for US residents. The set up is a flow-chart so you complete one step before moving on to another category of carbon emissions. The first the energy usage via heating, the second is transportation from personal vehicles, but not public transport strangely enough, and third is consumption patterns as measured by your report of waste production. Each of these 3 categories there’s a section at the bottom that you can select to mitigate emissions. The set-up is nice except for the fact that it seems to fit a narrow profile: someone who lives in the U.S., mainly in a cold or mild climate and heating is a major expense, and travels by car.
Conservation International is a conservation non-profit devoted to protect natural lands in different countries which is all the more baffling why they created a calculator geared to US residents like the EPA calculator. They break up the calculator into sections and have you move through them one by one. In the first, “household”, you report the size of the house and whether you use renewable energy sources.
This you can’t really know unless you know what your state is providing in terms of renewables, for example Texas vs New York would be quite different. Even so, the fact that you’re reporting your state makes it confusing whether that’s being counted twice. Here is also the only place you can report food consumption, broadly bucketed into meat-eating or non-meat eating etc.
The second category is “transportation” and here to their credit they include non-car modes of transportation, the idea being that the public modes of transport are less carbon intensive. If your report any of these, you also get the option to report the number of times or miles used for their type of transport. Finally you report on long distance plane travel.
The Nature Conservancy (abbreviated TNC) is another international group that works on conservation efforts. They describe themselves this way:
Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that people and nature can thrive together. Join us as we impact conservation in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries and territories around the globe!
The input format is a nice, “tabbed” based form so you can flip around to different things. Here’s the interface top menu:
And these include major categories of “transportation”, as travel which includes both daily ground and annual air; “home” that breaks down energy use in terms of electricity and gas and oil bills; “food” broken down as caloric intake in major categories; “shopping” in terms goods vs services consumption.
This form has the advantage of being comprehensive, yet simple, and seems to hit all the major points. Of course, it’s not clear whether its accurate or not. We suggest you use the manual method on our site and compare to the tool to evaluate how its doing.
Resources from Shrink That Footprint
# How to calculate your carbon footprint
Resources from around the web
# Cool Climate Network (Berkeley)
# EUREAPA (Open Planet Economy Network)