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What Is A Carbon Footprint Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2354 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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there are many definitions used by different organizations; a carbon footprint is "The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)" (timeforchange.org); 'The total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an [individual, event, organisation, product] expressed as CO2.'(carbon trust). Some organisations such as direct.gov and the carbon trust provide online calculators which allow individuals and businesses to calculate their individual carbon footprint and how you can go on to minimise and/or offset it. Government campaigns and initiatives such as Act on CO2 encourage and provide information on how the CO2 output can be reduced (which is the main contributor to greenhouse effect) by making changes to their lifestyle and daily routine. For households this includes switching to energy efficient light bulbs, switching of appliances when not in use and reducing the temperature of laundry washes. For businesses there are incentives and aids such as online help for reducing co2 emissions and costs, carbon surveys and 0% interest loans for energy efficient equipment upgrades (carbon trust). Companies such as carbon trust set up by the government are providing £50 million in interest free loans to help the public sector save energy. It is clear that an incentive for both individuals and businesses is that reducing their carbon footprint will inevitably save them money; replacing an old boiler (10-15 yrs old) with and energy efficient boiler could save a household £90 each year. (direct) Savings such as these are enough of a driver to encourage those people to consider reducing their carbon footprint. However it is important to consider if initial costs are relatively small and how easy and practical it is to make these changes. ( exoand on this)

There is a need to reduce the CO2 emissions contribution to greenhouse gases (GHG) compared to other GHG as the actions of humans mostly contributes to Co2 . Since the last industrial revolution there has been a rise to tens of billions of tons per year from human greenhouse gas emmisions. Figure 1 shows human produced greenhouse gases.

Figure 1

Currently over 30 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted each year by the burning of fossil fuels which releases co2 directly into the atmosphere. 7 billion tonnes is emitted from land use changes such as deforestation which changes the natural process of trees removing Co2 from the atmosphere. (actonco2) different activities which contribute include; Industry: more than 40%, Buildings (homes, offices and the like: about 31%, transportations: around 22% and Agriculture; about 4%. (robert henderson)

The contribution from other GHG to global warming can be calculated by converting them into their carbon equivalent (carbonfootprint.com) The previous bullet point describes the carbon emissions of different sectors and countries.

There is an increasing need for businesses in the private and public sector and local authorities to reduce carbon emissions as well as individuals. The UK government is introducing new legislation in order to meet the target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. This legislation includes charging businesses if their energy usage is greater than 6000MWh per year. (reference). If these requirements are not met then the result is being placed in a low league table (carbon footprint-crc) and the possibility of facing other penalties. EU and UK legislation regarding reducing carbon emissions and energy in the UK is discussed in sectionxxxx of this report. Local authorities are encouraged to be fore frontiers of 'combating global warming' in their areas and societies; encouraging others to make changes in order to reduce carbon emissions. Local authorities will need to calculate the carbon emissions of their buildings and services yearly and report them to DEFRA. Under new regulations they are encouraged to raise awareness of reducing carbon footprints in the local area ( carbonfootprint.com). The Carbon emissions of LA's will be published annually. There are also a number of campaigns such as Act on Co2 being advertised to the public to highlight the problem of carbon emissions.

The Government is putting pressure on tenants, buyers and the public for making their buildings more energy efficient.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) were introduced in 2008 (carbon foot) and are required when a building is constructed, sold or rented out. It rates the energy performance of a building; informing buyers, possible occupants if the building is energy efficient. A recommendation report is always produced along with the certificate listing the potential opportunities to increase the buildings energy efficiency. Landlords are open to Heavy penalties of 12.5% of the rateable value of the building if an EPC is not presented when requested by a tenant/buyer.

The equivalent for public buildings are Display Energy Certificates; where the building is rated on its operational efficiency every 10 years, with the result certificate displayed in a publically visible place (cfprint)

How is a carbon footprint calculated?

Online calculators provided by organistations including direct.gov, carbon trust and carbon footprint allow both businesses and households to calculate their carbon footprint. In order to get an accurate idea of a carbon footprint it is important to use calculators regulated by Government bodies.

For households, data which is usually sort for calculation of the footprint are statistics such as gas and electricity bills, motor vehicle mileage and Miles per Gallon (MPG) the products contained in homes and the main source of heating the home gas or electricity (act on co2),. For businesses this can includes all of the above as well as employee travel and fuel usuage for example.

A carbon footprint is made up pf the sum of a primary footprint and a secondary footprint

These are defined by Carbon Footprint Ltd. below

1. The primary footprint is a measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption and transportation (e.g. car and plane). We have direct control of these.


2. The secondary footprint is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the whole lifecycle of products we use - those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown. To put it very simply - the more we buy the more emissions will be caused on our behalf.

The graph below shows the main elements of an individuals lifestyle which contributes to a carbon footprint.

The pie chart above shows the main elements which

make up the total of an typical person's carbon footprint in the developed world.

This is different for residents of other countries; on average a UK resident has an annual carbon footprint if 11.6 tonnes; 40% manufacture/construction, food 5%, services 6% housing 20%. Compared to a US resident of 25.9 tonnes 38% manufacture/construction, food 45%, services 6%, housing 18%, personal travel 34% and resident of Africa resident 0.9% from services solely ( robert henderson book)

How to reduce a carbon footprint

When considering reducing and how to reduce a carbon footprint it is important to consider the persons lifestyle and for a company; the type of business. Everyone leads different lives and will be able to make differences depending on their lifestyle. Some people require travelling abroad for instance so it may be difficult to minimise travel co2 emissions. In almost all instances reducing co2 emissions inevitably results in reducing costs in the long term.

Changes can be made in all aspects of life in order to reduce a carbon footprint; this includes in the home, changing transport and travel, shopping and recycling. Initial costs outweigh benefit????

At home switching to low energy light bulbs, and investing in attic insulation can reduce the energy lost in a home resulting in less energy and money required to heat it. Some utility companies also allow customers to specify that some or all of the power supplied to your home is from renewable sources (roberthenderson). This works by the company putting energy into the grid in an amount equal to your consumption. Households could also switch to renewable energies such as

photovoltaic's and wind turbines. The benefits and reality of such technologies smaller households will be discussed in sectionxxx


Table xxx shows methods to help reduce an indivuals carbon footprint






Loft insulation

Switch to cycling and walking

Consider the materials used and transport mechanism for products

Turning elcetircla equipment off at night

Deisng for environmentally friendly products

Double glazing

Making fewer and shorter journeys by car uses a lot if energy

Choose local products, and farmers market products and organic products

Invest in energy saving plant/ technology

Draught excluders

Choose energy efficient vehicles-hybrid

Buying in vulk and ingeredients instead of ready made foods

Install movement sensitive lights in lower used areas such as toilets

Cavity wall insulation

Plan route, save fuel, time and money getting lost

Improve insulation and lowering the thermostat temperature

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is the process of compensating for carbon emissions which are generally unavoidable (i.e lifestyle essentials) by funding an equivalent co2 saving project somewhere else. carbon credits are awarded in order to balance to emissions from defined activities measured in carbon dioxide equivalent (co2e) (qas). It is highly stressed (act n co2) that carbon offsetting is not an alternative to reducing an individual's/organisations carbon emissions to combat climate change but provide " a mechanism to reduce GHG emissions in the most cost-effective and economically-efficient manner" (carbonfootprint.com) carbon offsetting is defined as (offsetting.decc.goc.uk)

Offsetting is also used by global corporations such as HSBC (get some more) Some online travel services and airlines also offer customers the possibility to offset their air travel emissions.

The UK Governments Quality assurance Scheme (QAS)- for carbon offsetting introduced in xxx. It has been created to help individuals and companies choose approved quality offsets. The QAS effectively 'vouches' for the quality of offsets provided with a quality mark. The aim of the scheme is to tackle public confusion and distrust of carbon offsetting whilst providing better information and high quality standards for customers of carbon offsetting.

The main process of carbon offsetting (carbon neutral) is (directgov offset)

calculating the emissions produced- this can be done using QAS offset providers which have carbon calculators

-choose which activity/activities you would like to offset

Buy an equivalent amount of "carbon credits" from projects- which use the fee paid to fund the projects

Some projects include:

harnessing river hydropower in Fiji

establishing the first wind energy plant in Cyprus

collecting methane to generate electricity from landfill sites in Durban, South Africa

(offsetting .decc.gov.uk)

QAS offsetting providers include:

-Energy Saving Ttust

- Crabon Trust

The offsetting argument

Offsetting fees are not regulated they do vary over time- however there are plans to set these costs from European emissions trading which are measured in cost per tonne. Therefore I is currently difficult to say if consumers and businesses are getting their 'monies worth' of carbon offsets. Projects such as tree planting are slightly controversial as there is evidence to show that there may be longer lasting ways to beat climate change (henderson). When trees die most of its stored carbon is restored to the atmosphere anyway and It may be more important to protect the rainforests which are still remaining from deforestation. The actual deforestation of forests is a very large source of greenhouse emissions- the burning of trees contributes to around a fifth of co2 produced emissions (Henderson) Now with governmental standards it should make it easier to pick offsets which actually "work".

It can take years to see the environmental benefits of tree planting to take affect and It also difficult to measure exactly how much carbon dioxide is saved preventing projects such as these from receiving the QAS mark (offsetting.decc.goc.uk).

There are many different types of offsetting projects, generally involving energy efficiency or renewable energy. Here are some examples of the kind of projects that could produce a credit used for offsetting:

providing people in Aceh, Indonesia with solar cookers and heat retention containers for cooking, heating, sterilising water and preserving food

introducing energy efficiency measures at a resort hotel in India

harnessing river hydropower in Fiji

establishing the first wind energy plant in Cyprus

However carbon footprint offsetting does allow people to start making the effort to combating co2 and for some (due to busy lifestyles which require releasing larger amounts of co2 9e.g-needing to travel) it is easier to do this than invest in renewable energies in the home/office. It can take decades for the carbon produced to be offset by projects such as tree planting. Whilst investing in lower energy light bulbs and insulating a loft can lead to benefits in a year.


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