What is a Carbon Footprint and How Can We Reduce it?

What is a carbon footprint
Nasir Khan

Nasir Khan

What is a carbon footprint? The key factor controlling climate change CAN be altered to save the planet from further damage.


The earth’s temperature has remained fairly consistent for a long period of time. But in the 20th century alone, it has increased by 2 degree celsius. The consequences are adverse climate impacts like excess drought, flood, cyclones and polar ice melting resulting in the rise in sea level. 

That’s why world leaders have pledged within the Paris Agreement to keep the Earth’s temperature below 1.5 degrees celsius throughout all our endeavours. Having said this, to keep things under control, to achieve these ambitious sustainable goals, we need to put in effort- and we have to reduce our carbon footprint.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

what is a carbon footprint
photo credit: Chandler Cruttenden / Unsplash

As per the journal “Carbon Management”, the carbon footprint is defined as follows –


“A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks, and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest. Calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent using the relevant 100-year global warming potential (GWP100)”.


If we decode the above definition, any activity that we do on Earth, either on an individual level or collectively as an organisation, results in some amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions produced, directly or indirectly.

These emissions released from our side are termed as our Carbon Footprint. And it’s measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

what is a carbon footprint Industry Wise GHG emissions
photo credit fao.org

But from where these emissions are coming? 

If we look industry wise, the United Nations FAO report suggests the Energy sector – production & distribution – accounts for 35% of the GHG emissions globally which is the largest contributor. This is followed by Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU), Industry Manufacturing, Transport and Buildings in that order all of which stands at 24%, 21%, 14% and 6% respectively.

Country wise, taking per capita CO2 emissions or CO2 emissions per person, the developed countries like Australia, US and Canada lead the list with 15.37t, 14.24t and 14.2t respectively. Also, the world’s average carbon footprint per person was 4.47t in 2020, a decrease from 2019 where it stood at 4.76t.

Water-coal Conflict in China. photo credit: Nian Shan/Greenpeace
photo credit: Nian Shan/Greenpeace

How to Measure Carbon Footprint – Companies and Individuals

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. This is a well-known quote in management that applies to almost every kind of process aiming for its improvement. So it will be applied here too if you serious about reducing your carbon footprint. 

We have to measure how much we are contributing to our carbon footprint, and from where.

Let’s discuss this in two categories – for individuals and for companies or larger organisations.


On an individual level, we can estimate our personal carbon footprint using many carbon footprint calculators available on the internet, like one from carbonfootprint.com or savingnature.com. But whatever tool you choose, the process is the same for everyone.

First, they’ll ask you questions about your lifestyle. 

You’ll give details like how much you travel, what food you prefer, how you shop and other relevant things. Based on your inputs, the tool will provide you an estimate of your carbon footprint on the earth so that you can plan your reduction efforts.


Things are a bit simple or easier on an individual side as compared to organisations. Of course, because of the reason that there are many people involved altogether in case of an organisation. Many things are out of control also, like a scenario where a single corporate building is shared by many organisations. Or due to constant changes in the emission guidelines crafted for industries for reporting their emissions.  

Having said this, there are a number of guidelines or protocols that industries or organisations follow to create their emission inventories. Some of the well-known guidelines for estimating and reporting carbon emissions are GHG Protocol, Defra Guidelines, SASB, GRI, PRI, etc.

So things aren’t too complicated either when it comes to companies for calculating their carbon footprint. What’s required from the stakeholders is a full-proof strategy from the beginning to achieve the bottom line.

what is a carbon footprint and how to reduce it
photo credit: David Vig / Unsplash

How to reduce carbon footprint?

As we have now measured our emissions, let’s talk regarding the meat of the matter, the ultimate goal – how to reduce our carbon footprint.

Basically, this can be done in two ways –

  1. Taking measures to reduce the GHG emissions.
  2. By compensating the emissions with other sustainable acts – the concept known as offsetting.
Let’s delve into these one by one

Take measure to reduce emissions

First things first. Our first priority should be to reduce or eliminate our emissions as much as possible. For that, we can take the following measures.

person washing their hands under running water faucet tap
photo credit: Fran Jacquier / Unsplash

1. Save energy and save water

Many times, small things make the most difference. Try to switch off your bulbs or appliances when not in use. Need another motivation to do this? You’ll also find significant savings with your energy bills. 

If you’re using those old yellow glowing incandescent bulbs, it’s time to say goodbye to them – immediately. A single retrofit like LED bulbs replacing incandescent ones can save 90% on energy expenses.

Go with energy rated appliances. They may have an upfront cost but rebate programmes can help you here. And what’s more important is they can provide you with 50% of energy savings.

Go for Energy Management Systems – EMS, if you’re an organisation looking for efficient management for energy savings. Using an EMS in a building can save you 29% in energy costs, as compared otherwise.

Save water wherever & whenever possible. Use water efficiently and fix your leaking taps and pipes. Because saving water also saves energy. The water made worth using passes through various treatment processes and pumping systems that consume energy – a noteworthy point.

woman eating food by herself
photo credit: Louis Hansel / Unsplash

2. Change your food habits

Let’s recall what we just came across above – AFOLU or worldwide food production accounts for around 24% of the global GHG emissions – the second major contributor for GHG emissions. So a lot of improvement scope lies here.

The major areas from where the emissions arrive from the food sector are crop production, cattle digestion, supply chain and livestock.

One of the major pollutants that get released due to food waste decomposition is methane – a gas four times more potent than CO2 when it comes to greenhouse effect.

And do you know what are the top most carbon-intensive food products? To your surprise, animal products like beef, lamb and cheese are the major contributors or culprits for the GHG emissions across the supply chain.

So, the solution here is – to go green with our food habits. Consume green food items and cut down your meat consumption. Why not try to become “flexitarian” – a combination of the words flexible and vegetarian – in case you’re a daily meat consumer? A few days without meat or meat-free Mondays for at least?

Go local to buy your food products. Prefer seasonal foods. This’ll reduce food transportation and supply chain emissions and will slash the food prices as well. Become vocal for locals. Also encourage others to shop local. This’ll also support local communities economically, making a win-win situation for both buyers and sellers.

travel responsibly airport arrivals in London
photo credit: Skitterphoto

3. Travel responsibly

It’s time to travel, but this time responsibly, with a small note that transportation activities are responsible for 14% of the global GHG emissions. 

So, for your short commutes, avoid four wheelers or pollution causing two-wheelers. Choose a bicycle instead or become a pedestrian. Go car pooling or public transport. This not only means less emissions and cleaner air, but also a savings of a few bucks inside your pocket.

what is a carbon footprint and how can we alter it with carbon offsets
photo credit: EU business news

Offset remaining carbon impacts

The next effective way to reduce our carbon footprint on earth is through carbon offsetting initiatives. We can buy carbon credits or offsets to compensate for the emissions released due to our activities. The money we spend buying carbon offsets goes into the funding of various green projects like forest protection and plantation and renewable energy generations.

But is this an opportunity to emit more? Absolutely not. It’s not a free ticket to burn more fossil fuels or a silver bullet to the roadmap of sustainability. It’s something that we need to consider as our second priority. And it’ll be only effective after we have done everything from our side to reduce emissions in the first place.


Carbon footprint essentially is our carbon or GHG emissions that’s being released into the atmosphere, deliberately to fulfil our energy needs or due to our negligence. We discussed the reasons and various ways by which anyone can calculate and reduce his carbon footprint or imprint his green footprint on this earth.  

And if you’re a business thinking to reduce your carbon footprint, then there’s another reason to proceed towards the sustainable path. And that is – consumers are now preferring greener products!. Data from a survey of 6000 consumers suggested that 72% of the people across the globe may prefer buying greener products.  

what is a carbon footprint, what is a carbon footprint and how do we reduce it, reducing carbon footprint, what are the steps to reducing carbon footprint, how do i offset my carbon footprint business, carbon offsetting solutions for business, what is a business carbon footprint, how can businesses measure their carbon footprint, carbon offsetting solutions, what are some carbon offsetting solutions for my business