Great question! It's not as simple as you might think... 🤔
The most basic definition: a carbon footprint 👣 is the measurement of the carbon emissions associated with our lives and the members of our household🏡.
But there's a more important definition: measuring your carbon footprint isn't a shame or blame game - hey, we all have to start somewhere. Your carbon footprint is a diagnostic tool (of many) to help you start thinking about how your daily actions might not only influence the climate crisis, but those around you. Because believe it or not, your actions are more powerful than you think! Through our collective individual actions, not only do we lower our individual carbon footprints, but we show the companies we purchase goods and services from (and the politicians we vote for) where our priorities lie and continue to inspire others to do the same. This can create a social tipping point where climate actions become the norm and thus, promoting system changes!
We calculate your GHG emissions by multiplying️ your activity data by emission factors:
GHG emissions = your activity data x emission factor
An emissions factor is the amount of greenhouse gasses released per unit of activity. For example: the amount of carbon pollution🌫️ released per unit of driving (kg CO2e / km driven) or per unit of beef 🐄 consumed (kg CO2e / kg beef).
For example, when you drive a gas-powered car🚗, the engine burns🔥 gasoline, a fossil fuel, to move the vehicle. For every litre of gasoline burned there is a specific amount of greenhouse gas pollution🌫 released. We can then calculate your carbon emissions by multiplying the litres of gasoline (activity data) by the amount of CO2e released per litre (emission factor). For this example, the equation would be: Tonnes CO2e from driving = litres of gasoline x tonnes CO2e per litre of gasoline.
We use published research from Natural Resources Canada and other agencies to develop these activity data models. Our methodology, including activity data model and emissions factors, is reviewed by experts on our Technical Advisory Panel.
We use tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tonnes CO2e) to measure GHG emissions. CO2e includes all kinds of greenhouse gasses such as methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - not just carbon dioxide - giving a more accurate measure of the total climate impact!
Our Carbon Footprint Calculator provides a general estimate of your expected climate impact💥 . This is because many GHG emissions factors are already known with a high degree of accuracy and are easier to measure, such as using a kilowatt hour of electricity⚡ from Ontario's current energy grid. However, it's much more challenging to estimate the carbon impact of other GHG emission factors, such as the emissions from an eight ounce steak because there's more variety in the ways cows🐄 are raised.
We use emissions factors from reliable published sources and we continue to update those factors whenever better data is available.
Adding more data to your dashboard by completing all our deep dive modules (Home Energy🏡, Daily Transportation🚗, Travel✈️, Food🍎 and Waste🗑️) will also give more accurate results.
Users are in control of their data and should they wish to delete their accounts, they have full right to do so and all associated database records are permanently removed from our servers.
The best climate actions you can take are the ones that will have the highest impact on your GHG emissions and that you will want to sustain in the long term. Here are some easy ideas to get you started:
• Install LED light bulbs
• Install low-flow shower heads
• Close your blinds on hot days
• Lower your water heater's temperature
• Install a smart thermostat to avoid heating/cooling your home when no one is there
• Keep heated/cooled air inside by sealing air leaks, insulating your walls, attic and foundation, and/or replacing old doors and windows
• Upgrade to a heat pump
• Switch to ENERGY STAR® rated appliances including water heaters, air conditioners, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers
Daily Transportation🚗, and Travel✈
• Walk or bike whenever possible!
• Take transit whenever you can avoid being in a private vehicle
• Carpool, or use ride sharing and bike sharing programs
• Check the air pressure in your vehicle's tires and inflate them as recommended by the manufacturer for better fuel efficiency
• Reduce driving time on individual trips by grouping your errands together
• Reduce the number of airline flights you take
• For flights you must take, consider buying high-quality carbon offsets
• Eating less meat and dairy by adopting a more plant-based diet
• Choose local food that has traveled fewer kilometres to your plate
• Freeze last night's leftovers for a great lunch later in the week and to avoid throwing out spoiled food
• Compost food waste to keep it out of landfill, where it turns into highly-polluting methane gas
• Know where it goes: use your municipality's online search tool to identify whether items can be composted, recycled or trashed
• Donate gently used items to so they can be reused, and you'll reduce demand for newly manufactured items as well
These ideas are just a start. You can also take advantage of rebates, incentives and local climate action programs. Don't be shy! Share your favourite low-carbon action and why it works for you on your preferred social forum. Be sure to tag @ProjectNeutral on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter when you do!
With such a complex problem on our hands👐, many scientists and policy advocates have suggested that we cannot, and will not, solve climate change without deep systemic economic and political changes (such as investing in low carbon tech or putting an international price on carbon). These claims often imply the burden😔 of solving climate change falls solely on the politicians who create the regulations, and the companies who will abide by them - and climate solutions that focus on individual responsibility (like carbon footprint reduction) are dismissed as “useless”.
This shift from individual responsibility to systems change as a means of solving climate change is not new, but is most likely unnecessary because we don’t need to make the choice between one or the other - why can’t we do both?🤔 As Lina Fedirko and Kate Power say in, Debunking the false choice between individual behavior change and systems change, “systems change and individual behavior change are not conflicting frameworks for how to mitigate climate change, they are two sides of the same coin… this is ultimately a false choice that distracts everyone from the real work of climate action and underestimates the power of individual choices that underpin social norms.”
Your actions are more powerful💥 than you think! The changes we make in our everyday lives to reduce our carbon footprints can have a huge impact when they inspire others to take action too. Through our collective individual actions, not only do we lower our carbon footprint, but we can show the companies we purchase goods and services from (and the politicians we vote for) where our priorities lie and continue to inspire others to do the same. This can create a social tipping point where climate actions become the norm and thus, promoting system changes!✅
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) absorb and trap heat☀️ in the atmosphere. This process, referred to as the greenhouse effect, causes the atmosphere and earth to warm🔥.
Common greenhouse gases include: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor (H2O), ozone (O3), and fluorinated gases. Methane and nitrous oxide are the most powerful at absorbing heat. Atmospheric GHGs accelerate climate change when they are highly concentrated, long-lasting, and have high potential for heat absorption. Because GHGs vary in their properties, we often use the measure “carbon dioxide equivalent” (CO2e) to quantify across the range.
Both people👫 and natural🍃 factors contribute to climate change.
People cause climate change through burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings and transport people and goods. Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are also released through garbage🗑️ decomposing in landfills, refrigerant gasses leaking from old appliances, large-scale agricultural systems and chemical processes. We also contribute to climate change by clearing forests🌳 and other areas that absorb carbon dioxide.
All these greenhouse gasses form a heat-trapping🔥 blanket around the earth🌎. While this produces warming on a global scale, we mostly experience it as an increase in extreme weather. With climate change comes bigger storms, longer droughts, more forest fires ... the list goes on.
Natural factors - such as the sun☀️, the earth's orbit, and volcanic activity🌋 - also impact the climate. However, scientists have concluded that the degree and rate of warming we are experiencing today is primarily the result of human activity👫‼️.
Project Neutral’s carbon footprint is different from other calculators!
1. We offer a series of deep-dive modules which allow you to get more accurate results across several emissions categories;
2. We provide a series of action cards which show you where you can have the highest impact;
3. We visualize how you compare to the average household as well as the top percentage of site users;
4. We offer various programs, like Kids Cutting Carbon or Talk Climate to Me, where you can measure your carbon footprint and take climate action with a group or your local community;
5. We draw on local emission factors to make sure your results are accurate for Ontario and not California, the E.U. or elsewhere!