Tracing the carbon footprint


A classic adage goes like this,

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

The Kyoto Protocol commits all the countries in the world to stabilize green house gases. And greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cannot be managed if we cannot measure it. This is where carbon footprint comes into picture.

Defining carbon footprint:

It is important how we define ‘carbon footprint’. This is because we want to measure anthropogenic GHGs and not the gases that are spewed out of volcanoes or other natural phenomena. In 2008, a report was published which now appears in a book by Wiedmann, T. and Minx, J.: ‘A Definition of ‘Carbon Footprint’. This report has a comprehensive analysis of available literature on carbon footprint and proposes ideas which can then help us achieve a more robust way of measuring it.

How do we measure carbon footprint?

The process of measuring carbon footprint is known as ‘carbon accounting’. It can help individuals and organizations to devise ways to reduce emissions. The process of carbon emissions reduction is known as ‘carbon offsetting’.  More and more industries are now switching to renewable energy resources, bio-feed stocks and adopting rigorous life-cycle analysis (LCA) techniques to offset this carbon.

How can I do this as an individual?

An individual’s carbon accounting can be done through carbon footprint calculators. These calculators take into account their daily activities such as: transportation choice, electricity usage and so on. Behind the electricity that one receives, are various processes that emit GHGs. These processes are: extraction of oil, its transportation; processing; construction; operation etc. Food production and consumption contribute 19 to 29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. One can reduce their carbon footprint through mindful usage of electricity and fuel or by embracing the 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) concept in various aspects of their life, including food and materials. If these products are not dumped into the earth, a closed loop can be maintained without the GHGs going into the atmosphere.

Individuals and industries both require a particular framework or an international standard for effective; transparent; and accountable measurements of GHG emissions. Alongside measurements lies reporting. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) is the most widely used international accounting tool for government and business leaders, while the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) promotes the use of sustainability reporting as a way for organizations to become more sustainable and contribute to sustainable development.

What if after all the measurement, one cannot keep up?

If however, a nation as a whole (individuals and organizations together) seems to be failing to fulfill the commitments according to the Kyoto Protocol, it can offset the emissions through a trading mechanism called as ‘emissions trading’.

More on emissions trading will be discussed in future blog posts.

This blog post was first published at GreenHatters on February 4, 2014.

GreenHatters is a not-for-profit initiative that cares for the environment and promotes sustainability, strives to create awareness on Energy conservation and Carbon footprint responsibility.


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