Carbon footprint

What is the carbon footprint and why will reducing it help to combat climate change?

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The carbon footprint represents the total volume of greenhouse gases (GG) resulting from everyday economic and human activity. Knowing the carbon footprint of an activity, which is measured in tons of CO2 emissions, is important when it comes to taking measures and launching initiatives to reduce it to the lowest possible level. It all starts with what each individual does every day.

The carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gases (GG) produced by human activity.

Every time you travel by car, charge your mobile phone, switch on the TV or run the washing machine, and many other thousands of routine activities, you leave a trail of gases in your wake that build up in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. These emissions speed up climate change, warn the United Nations (UN) in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and if we do not neutralise them in time by decarbonising the economy and through other measures such as environmental taxes, a far more inhospitable world is just around the corner.

What is a carbon footprint 

The trace of the greenhouse gases produced by human activities are known as the carbon footprint. This environmental indicator measures both direct and indirect emissions of compounds like methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and, above all, the most abundant and most important contributor to global warming since 1990: Carbon dioxide (CO2).

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2019 and that today's levels of atmospheric CO2 are comparable to those of more than three million years ago, when the earth's thermometer marked a temperature about 3°C higher and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than they are today. According to the Global Footprint Network, so far, the carbon footprint has not stopped growing. In fact it has increased elevenfold since 1961 and now accounts for 60 % of man's total impact on the environment.

Personal carbon footprint 

Your personal carbon footprint is what you leave behind as a result of moving about, consuming, eating and using resources like energy. Environmental NGO The Nature Conservancy estimates that each inhabitant on the planet produces an average of almost four tons of CO2 every year, while in countries like the United States this amount is up to four times that per person and per year.

The Nature Conservancy says that we all need to reduce our carbon footprints to less than two tons per year by 2050. The experts say that this is the best way to ensure that temperatures stop rising and don't reach the dreaded 2 °C threshold, which would exacerbate climate change and transform it into an irreversible problem.

The carbon footprint of companies 

Like human beings, companies also produce greenhouse gases during manufacturing, transport and energy consumption. The corporate footprint measures all GG emissions from companies and their scope, whether they are direct and controllable or not.

In this regard, companies usually have the option to reduce or offset their carbon footprints. How? By improving their energy efficiency, consuming energy of 100 % renewable origin, running campaigns to raise awareness, investing in environmental projects, paying green taxes and buying tons of CO2 on the international emissions market, among other options.

The carbon footprint of an organisation along the value chain.

 SEE INFOGRAPHIC: The carbon footprint of an organisation along the value chain [PDF] External link, opens in new window.

The carbon footprint of a product 

Consumer goods and services also emit greenhouse gases before, during and after their useful life. Therefore, pollution starts with the obtaining of raw materials, processing, production and distribution, through to their use and transformation into waste which is either reused, recycled or goes to landfill. The carbon footprint of events such as concerts, shows or sports events, among others, is also significant due to aspects like transport, energy consumption, waste generated, etc.

Calculate your carbon footprint 

There are numerous free, very simple tools available on the Internet to calculate your personal carbon footprint in just a few minutes. The calculator offered by the UN External link, opens in new window. considers aspects of the home — type of housing, size, energy efficiency, etc. —, our usual mode of transport and our lifestyle, such as consumption of meat and local products, or management of food waste and technological waste.

Knowing your personal or organisational carbon footprint is useful for the following reasons: it enables you to identify and reduce GG emissions, it allows corporations to publish their environmental performance statistics, it can be used as information to raise awareness of environmental costs and, basically, it is an effective tool for environmental and energy management.

How to reduce your carbon footprint

The next few years will be decisive in our fight against climate change and our success will certainly depend on our ability to reduce our carbon footprint. Here are some tips to help you do that:

 Choose responsible consumption, based on local products and sustainable production, and start growing produce in your own urban garden.

 Get about using sustainable means of transport, such as public transport, bicycle or on foot, and buy vehicles that are environmentally friendly.

 Choose a 100 % renewable energy consumption, buy energy-saving appliances, and control heating and air conditioning to save energy.

 Be aware and tell others about the importance of reducing the carbon footprint.

 Reduce waste: Reuse your packaging, recycle it and if this is not possible, dispose of it in the appropriate container.

 The Iberdrola Group Greenhouse Gas Report External link, opens in new window.

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