As good stewards of the planet we live on, it is often a good idea to measure our impact on the Earth and adjust accordingly. One of the best ways to do this is to calculate our carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is a rough measurement of greenhouse gases (GHG) that an individual, organization, event, or product produces. In this case we are looking at an individual assessment of GHG.
Luckily there are many online tools that will calculate your carbon footprint for free. We narrowed it down to our four favorite calculators, and compare the results for our imaginary wholesome character, Bob. We’ll talk more about Bob later, but first let’s look at our calculators.
The Carbonfootprint.com calculator has calculators dedicated to home or business use, and allows you to create an account for more involved carbon footprint calculations. You can, for example, save your data for adjustment later, add more flights as you take them, add new or different cars, and generally fine tune your information to get a clear picture of your personal GHG impact.
The Carbonfootprint.com calculator uses the DEFRA Voluntary Reporting Guideline methodology, and incorporates up-to-date emission factors. The calculator is fairly robust, and even takes into account secondary services such as financial services and recreation.
The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint Calculator is not as robust as the Carbonfootprint.com version, but it does take into account such information as Home Energy, Driving and Flying, Food and Diet, and Recycling.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The U.S. EPA GHG Calculator is a solid calculator that strives to strike a balance between being in depth and easy to use. With that said, you may find that it is not ideally suited to some uses, such as businesses, but for an individual or home use it certainly can give a good estimate.
One thing that we found of interest is the EPA Greenhouse Gases Equivalences Calculator. This tool will help you visualize just what common greenhouse data is like – for example, 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity is equal to the CO2 emissions of 8.1 gallons of gas or 0.024 tons of waste recycled instead of sending it to the landfill.
The TerraPass Carbon Footprint Calculator supports both individual/families and businesses. The calculator uses information provided by the Environment Protection Agency and other governmental sources. TerraPass targets three main areas (driving, air travel and home) to gather information and come to a logical GHG footprint.
First. let’s meet Bob. Bob is a nice guy, and he tries to keep his emissions down to a minimum. Since Bob lives in a semi-urban area he doesn’t have the option for public transportation, and ends up driving his 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid about 8000 miles a year. Bob takes just one flight a year, and that is from his Newark, NJ home town to Las Vegas, Nevada for a relaxing vacation. Finally, his home uses both gas and electricity, and on average Bob spends about $91 on electricity and $98 on gas.
Next, we enter Bob’s information on the different calculators and compare the results. This we enter into a spreadsheet, and graph the results for your visual consumption. And the results are…
Interesting to note, even though the results are given in carbon dioxide tons, the answers vary by a wide margin between calculators. While I was expecting some deviation, the final results leave a lot of accuracy desired. The best advice I can give is to view the typical average reported per person and see how you stack up against it. Even that will not be a solid comparison, since our friend Bob was better than average for only three of the four calculators.
The key to using carbon footprint calculators, at least for now, is to pick one you like and stick with it. Get a starting number, and work to get it as low as practical. In this way you have a measuring system in place, and you can track your results to a comfortable conclusion that you are doing what you can for the planet.