Definition carbon footprint

Definition carbon footprint

The term carbon footprint has gained popularity over the past decade in response to growing public awareness of environmental issues and climate change. This expression is now widely used in the media, government, and business world. The popularity of this concept is closely related to concern about rising levels of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and the belief that rising levels of CO2 have changed and will continue to change the Earth’s climate. But what actually is a “carbon footprint”? Despite the extensive use of this term in the media, government, and business communities, further analysis shows that the rich use of this term has not been accompanied by a commonly accepted definition.

Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases you release into the atmosphere each day. These greenhouse gases are released from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation. While this doesn’t seem like a huge impact, imagine the carbon footprint of every item you consume or buy on a daily basis. You can calculate your daily carbon footprint online at There are many things you can do to reduce your daily carbon footprint that will make a big impact.

A carbon footprint is “the total GHG emissions caused directly or indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product” (Carbon Trust 2008).

carbon footprints are measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent or CO2e (and more rarely in tonnes of carbon).The “equivalent” means that the footprint is made up of a number of different greenhouse gases converted into the equivalent amount of CO2 to represent all emissions in one number.

The carbon footprint is a measure of the exclusive total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that is directly and indirectly caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product.

This includes activities of individuals, populations, governments, companies, organizations, processes, industrial sectors, etc. Products include goods and services. In any case, all direct (onsite, internal) and indirect (external, external, built-in, upstream, downstream) emissions must be considered.

The definition also refrains from expressing the CO2 footprint as an area-related indicator. The “total amount” of CO2 is physically measured in units of mass (kg, t etc.) and is therefore not converted into units of area (ha, m2, km2 etc.). Conversion to a land area would need to be based on a variety of different assumptions and increase the uncertainties and errors associated with any given footprint estimate.

Whilst it is important for the concept of ‘carbon footprint’ to be all-encompassing and to include all possible causes that give rise to carbon emissions, it is equally important to make clear what this includes. The correct measurement of carbon
footprints gain particular importance and precariousness when it comes to carbon offsetting.

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