A carbon footprint is the total amount of GHGs (Greenhouse Gases) released into the atmosphere, either by an individual, a business, an event (e.g. a plane trip), product or a service.
Whether you’re stuck in traffic, working at your computer, or cooking dinner for your family, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re racking up an invisible carbon debt. Because it can be tough to connect seemingly innocuous daily activities with very real consequences like pollution and a warming planet, it’s important to calculate your footprint—and then take steps to reduce it.
The four drivers of carbon emissions
COMBAT YOUR FOOTPRINT
Carbon offset programs, such as the conservation of a mature forest, is a great way to neutralize your carbon emissions.
One Tree Planted has teamed up with Nature Conservancy and their recently conserved Burnt Mountain Natural Area to offer a diversified way for individuals to combat their carbon footprint. This 5,408-acre forest will remain “forever wild” as this project helps create an 11,000-acre block of continuous forest that will be protected in perpetuity. This project aims at improving water quality, protecting biodiversity and forest conservation.
IMPROVING WATER QUALITY
Burnt Mountain Natural Area hosts important headwater streams that provide drinking water to approximately 250,000 people. The Calavale Brook restoration project is further improving water quality and instream habitat for native brook trout and a variety of other fish species.
Over twenty-five species of neo-tropical migratory songbirds breed in the Burnt Mountain forest, as does wildlife such as moose and black bear that are dependent on this intact forest to find food and mates. TNC management of this land under the “forever wild” easement will ensure that old growth once again exists in northern Vermont.
The Burnt Mountain Project is the largest carbon offset project in the state of Vermont, and it is estimated that it will remove 236,772 tCO2e from the atmosphere in the first decade—the equivalent of taking 38,000 cars off the road. Revenue from the carbon will support additional forest conservation in Vermont.
Food’s carbon footprint, or foodprint, is the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat. By changing the food that you eat, you can make a quantifiable difference in your carbon footprint. And by impacting your carbon footprint, you're simultaneously reducing pollution, preserving the environment and slowing global warming.
EAT LESS MEAT
Overall, animal-based foods typically have a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods. Lamb and cheese, for example, both emit more than 20 kilograms of CO2. And while poultry and pork do have lower footprints they're still higher than most plant-based food items, at 6 and 7 kg CO2 respectively.
Most GHG emissions result from land use change, and from processes at the farm stage, this is especially true for the large emitters. Farm-stage emissions include processes such as the application of fertilizers, both organic and synthetic; and enteric fermentation (the production of methane in the stomachs of cattle). Combined, land use and farm-stage emissions account for more than 80% of the footprint for most foods. Notably, the carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-lover’s diet
So, how can you reduce your food's carbon footprint? Here are a couple of ideas:.
Opt for vegetarian and vegan proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh and corn to replace meat, cheese and eggs.
Make sure you are getting enough iron and zinc by including lots of whole grains, beans and a variety of vegetables
Invest in some vegetarian or vegan cookery books and have fun experimenting
Don’t rely on vegetarian processed foods.
Organic farming methods for both crops and animals have a much lower impact on the environment than conventional methods. Organic-certified farms must use natural methods for soil fertilisation, weed prevention and pest control. Antibiotics and growth hormones cannot be used to raise food animals, and there are standards of care which prevent cruelty to livestock. Genetically-modified and irradiated foods cannot be labelled organic and its better to avoid these processes which are not proven to be safe for us or the food chain.
Organic food is better for you too! Crops are grown in fertile soils that are full of nutrients – and these end up in your food and then in you. Livestock are able to roam the fields and eat their natural food – grass – rather than being force-fed corn. And this leads to a much less fatty meat that keeps your heart healthier.
You can help stop our reliance on fossil fuels by switching to sustainable energy today like solar power or wind power.
Fossil fuels supplied about 63 percent of all the electricity generated by the U.S. last year, according to the EPA. (Natural gas contributed about 35 percent, while coal didn’t lag far behind, at 27 percent.) Nuclear energy provided an additional 20 percent of our country’s power.
Yet green energy contributed only 17 percent of the electricity generated across the country in 2018. That’s despite a booming green energy sector — with renewables slated to become cheaper than fossil fuels as early as 2020, by some accounts.
Purchasing green energy can help each of us reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with our electricity use. Each year, an average household in the U.S. adds about 16,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere — exclusively from its electricity consumption. After the transportation industry, the electricity sector is the second-largest driver of global warming in the United States overall, contributing about 29 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Coal, on the other hand, releases 1 to 4 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (the standard unit for measuring global warming) per kilowatt-hour — the most of any fossil fuel. Nearly 100 different air pollutants have been found in the emissions spewing from coal-fired power plants, including lead and formaldehyde. A number of those are linked to chronic diseases, like asthma and cancer, as well as birth defects and premature death.
Trees help clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and provide habitat to over 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. They also provide jobs to over 1.6 billion people, absorb harmful carbon from the atmosphere, and are key ingredients in 25% of all medicines.
How is a carbon footprint calculated?
Most carbon calculators account for:
Location (some states and countries rely on dirty sources of power, while others use more renewable energy);
Home Heating and Electrical Usage;
Once your consumption has been calculated, each reported activity is measured against its respective emissions factor to determine your footprint.
Carbon offsets are voluntary buy-ins that allow you to trade your hard earned dollars for the ability to offset some or all of your carbon footprint. They do this by funding projects like restoring or conserving large swaths of forest, updating power plants and factories, capturing and storing emissions, and increasing the energy efficiency of building or transportation infrastructure. They provide a way for carbon-conscious businesses and people to reduce their accumulated climate change impact. They can also be used to neutralize specific activities like air travel and driving or entire events like weddings, sports games, and conferences.
Why offset your carbon emissions?
Carbon offsets are informed by the belief that reducing emissions in any area is worthwhile. They allow you to pay to compensate for global GHGs to make up for some or all of your own personal emissions. And because GHGs integrate easily into the atmosphere and spread quickly around the planet, paying to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere—even if it is on another continent— is a win for the planet. One of our favorite ways to do this is by —you guessed it—planting trees. In fact, one mature tree can absorb a whopping 22 pounds of carbon a year!
As an environmental nonprofit that plants trees, we’ve always been invested in carbon sequestration. Today, we’re accomplishing this by participating in unique reforestation and carbon sequestration projects, including this one in British Columbia, where we worked with the provincial government and indigenous community partners to restore their iconic evergreen forests and expand their Forest Carbon Initiative after 230,000 acres of land were burned in 2017’s historic wildfires. We planted a carefully selected mix of evergreen and deciduous trees to help this ecosystem recover, including Lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, Hybrid spruce, Western larch, Ponderosa pine, Trembling aspen, and Black cottonwood. Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine are particularly good at sequestering carbon.
While reforestation is our thing, we also recognize the vital importance of forestconservation—or, saving forests from being deforested in the first place. To this end, we also support the conservation of existing forests through BlueSource’s carbon offset program.
Below is the step-by-step process to offsetting your carbon emissions:
WANT TO OFFSET YOUR FLIGHTS?
OFFSET THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF YOUR FLIGHT BY PLANTING TREES