Heard of the butterfly effect? Everything we do, speak or touch has a direct consequence to determine a big event in the future. The same is applicable when it comes to the environment. We are now well aware of the fact that humans damage the Earth every day. All of us do. But is there a way to exactly quantify the damage we inflict to keep it within the reparable limit? Yes, ‘Carbon Footprint’ is a measurable unit to determine our detrimental impact on the plant, as a group or individually.
You will be surprised to know that it is a relatively modern concept created in the 1990s. It was derived from the theory of ‘Ecological Footprint’ developed by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel. It is basically the amount of total Greenhouse Gas emissions caused by an individual, family, industry, organization or nation. Greenhouse gases could include any harmful gases like carbon-monoxide, carbon-di-oxide, methane, and more. These are emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels, food consumption, smoking, land mining, construction, etc. Its exact scientific explanation goes as follows:
“A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emitted by a defined population, system or activity, inclusive of all relevant sources, sinks, and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of any pre-defined population, system or activity of interest. It is calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent using the relevant 100-year global warming potential (GWP100).”
Carbon accounting is at the core of calculating carbon footprints. It includes assessing various aspects like lifestyle analysis, life cycle analysis and overall GHG emission assessment. There are several programs and free online calculators available online from the University of California, Berkeley’s Cool Climate Network and CarbonStory. These programs are calibrated to give you accurate answers based on an elaborate questionnaire you answer about your food preferences, consumption, travel, commute, lifestyle, occupation, circadian rhythms etc.
But calculating the carbon footprint for an industry, a service or a product becomes a gigantic task that involves operational, manufacturing, sourcing, and transportation details included in something called the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment). As many organizations acquire operating permits and grades based on their carbon footprints. Therefore, many global certifying authorities like The International Organization for Standardization a framework for conducting a commercial LCA study to monitor, quantify, regulate, report, and validate GHG emissions at regular time intervals.