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What is a carbon footprint?

The term “carbon footprint” refers to the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases resulting from actions taken by a person, organization, or nation and their impact on climate change. 

British Petroleum introduced the term at the beginning of the 2000s through a marketing campaign meant to raise awareness on individuals’ contribution to climate change — an attempt to move attention from how the activity of oil giants impacted the environment. 

The term is largely used today, as people worldwide have become aware that they can lessen the climate issue with a combination of structural and individual actions.

Why reducing your carbon footprint matters 

Let’s analyze several numbers to understand better how daily activities impact climate change:

  • The global average carbon footprint for a person is 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year — for any greenhouse gas, the amount of carbon dioxide with the same global warming potential. 
  • In North America, the average carbon footprint is 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  • Sending an email can generate anywhere between 0.03g and 26g of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  • Streaming a 30-minute show on Netflix releases around 0.018kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. 
  • One cup of coffee made with an automatic coffee maker has a carbon footprint of 0.209 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent.

And the list can go on. Everything we do adds a few grams of greenhouse gasses to the total amount we generate every year until every person on the planet becomes responsible for several tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

The more greenhouse gasses we produce, the higher the rate at which global warming is harming Earth, with multiple consequences:

  • Ecosystems and habitats are lost, accelerating the extinction of wildlife. 
  • Destructive weather impacts the quality of life for people forced to counter hurricanes, floods, or droughts.
  • Reduced productivity of fisheries, crops, and livestock due to extreme weather events.
  • Poor air quality can increase health risks. 
  • Weather events cause displacement and poverty, with a long-term impact on people’s physical and mental health. 

By becoming aware of how our actions impact climate change, individuals and organizations can make better choices to reduce their carbon footprint and control the amount of greenhouse gas they release annually. 

One cup of coffee made with an automatic coffee maker has a carbon footprint of 0.209 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent

The top 5 ways to reduce your carbon footprint

1) Transportation

Transportation is responsible for as much as 37% of all end-use sector carbon dioxide emissions because it relies on fossil fuels more than any other industry. After an initial dropdown caused by the pandemic in 2020, emissions from transportation continued to rise again as businesses and individuals returned to their old habits. 

A series of international and local programs aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by encouraging innovation in the renewable fuels industry and setting new emission standards for cars and trucks. More steps are necessary to redefine aircraft standards, monitor government fleets, and redesign public transportation systems to make them greener and more appealing. 

Companies can work toward enhancing vehicle efficiency, optimizing business traveling and shipments, and opting for lower-carbon fuels when possible. 

Individuals, too, can contribute to reducing carbon emissions from transportation using low-carbon ways to travel locally and internationally: 

  • A person can cut travel emissions by almost 75% when using a bike instead of driving for short distances.
  • Taking the train instead of a car for short-medium trips can reduce emissions by about 80%.
  • Traveling by train instead of opting for a domestic flight can drop emissions by about 84%.

2) Food

Food production and agriculture are responsible for almost a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions, with 11% coming directly from livestock, agricultural soils, and rice production. 

Overall, the production of animal-based foods is responsible for a little over half of the emissions, and the production of plant-based foods accounts for almost a third. The remaining emissions come from converting agricultural land from cotton and other non-food crops to food production.

How to reduce your carbon footprint from food:

  • Be intentional about your diet and consume seasonal and local food to reduce transportation to a minimum. 
  • Only buy what you eat to prevent food waste, especially when you shop for animal-based food.
  • Buy products that come from sustainable producers and retailers. 
  • Avoid plastic packaging whenever possible by using reusable bags and organic packaging.

3) Clothing

The consistent growth of the fashion industry has harmful environmental effects, from drained or polluted water resources to significant greenhouse gas emissions. It’s believed that up to 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. Moreover, 60% of synthetic fabrics used in the industry come from fossil fuels. 

These numbers become even more worrying, considering that a massive 85% of all textiles are turned into garbage every year. Fifty billion plastic bottles’ worth—or 500,000 tons—of plastic microfibers are poured into the ocean yearly due to unstainable fashion practices. 

The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is actively involved in limiting the environmentally harmful practices of the fashion industry by encouraging creative fashion solutions and the usage of sustainable materials. 

How individuals can help: 

  • Choose natural materials, such as linen, cotton, or hemp. 
  • Buy less. If the demand reduces, fashion brands will likely produce fewer collections and generate less waste. 
  • Recycle. Sell or donate the clothes you no longer wear. At the same time, consider buying second-hand when possible to extend a garment’s lifecycle. 
  • Wash clothes at 30℃ (90℉).  
consider buying second-hand when possible

4) Energy 

During the pandemic, carbon emissions from industrial operations and energy combustion increased to their greatest annual level — by 6% between 2020 and 2021.

Low-carbon programs and clean energy measures are already in place, and major economies worldwide are proactive about mitigating the short-term rebound in emissions. The net-zero global carbon emissions by 2050 goal must be maintained to ensure clean energy with minimum impact on climate change.

How you can contribute to reducing your carbon footprint: 

  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth and shorten showers.
  • Reduce heat in your home by one degree Celsius. 
  • Don’t keep your phone charging after the battery is full.
  • Unplug electronics when you don’t use them. 
  • Don’t store unnecessary data in the cloud. 

5) Waste

Waste is at the forefront when it comes to sustainability due to its significant effects on climate change, pollution, and overall planetary health. While the amount of waste in landfills has diminished over the years (as companies, public administrations, and individuals became more intentional about waste management), we’re still looking at significant amounts of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere annually. 

Waste discarded in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas much stronger than carbon dioxide and a pivotal contributor to short-term global warming. For the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere, methane has a warming effect that can be up to 80 times greater than carbon dioxide. 

Individuals and organizations can mitigate climate change by producing less waste. Here’s how you can reduce your carbon footprint with effective waste management: 

  • Minimize food waste by buying less and storing food correctly. 
  • Use paper shopping bags, metal straws, and plastic alternatives where possible. 
  • Collect plastic, paper, metal, and glass waste separately for easy recycling. 
  • Reuse or upcycle waste items that cannot be recycled. 

The future of sustainability and carbon emissions 

What will the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases look like in the future? Experts have put together five scenarios based on various levels of commitment to reducing humanity’s carbon footprint, going from no climate policies to sustainable measures that continuously limit average global warming to 1.5°C by 2100. 

Many countries worldwide have agreed to combine efforts and keep global warming below 2°C as part of the Paris Agreement. Nations must cut their emissions of greenhouse gases to “net zero” by the year 2050. Lawmakers have been passing new laws and regulations to limit carbon emissions and encourage organizations and individuals to work together toward a common goal — a state in which we balance carbon dioxide emissions with removing similar quantities from the atmosphere.

While many giant brands might have exaggerated their net-zero emissions commitments, we can’t ignore their efforts toward making their processes and supply chains more sustainable. 

Scientists warn that predicting connections between the carbon cycle and Earth’s climate is challenging since so many different reactions could occur. One thing is sure: the more we can do to minimize our impact on climate change, the more likely we are to protect the environment and live self-sustainable lives. 

How HomeBiogas can help you reduce your carbon footprint

HomeBiogas manufactures a series of eco-friendly waste management systems that enable small-scale production of renewable energy to meet some of your daily energy needs. Users can generate biogas for domestic cooking while minimizing the amount of garbage that is dumped in landfills. 

Through anaerobic digestion, organic waste is broken down by bacteria and converted into power and bio-fertilizer that can be used to boost agriculture. 

HomeBiogas systems support a self-sufficient life in more ways than one: 

  • You keep waste away from landfills, so they no longer pollute soil, water, or air. 
  • You get to produce carbon-neutral biofuel and reduce your home’s carbon footprint. 
  • You get to use organic fertilizer for growing food and cut down on food miles, with further impact on your carbon footprint.

The products are designed to serve individuals and small businesses, such as farms or restaurants.

HomeBiogas systems support a self-sufficient life

Final thoughts 

Sometimes, the necessary steps toward lower carbon footprint are small and involve using simple, cost-effective, and efficient solutions. While municipalities and big brands need to make massive investments in architecture and infrastructure to meet their carbon emissions goals, individuals have the advantage they can implement change faster and with smaller costs. 

Learn more about our impact and how you, too, can make a change from our 2021 Impact & ESG Report

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