What your carbon footprint really means

You hear about your carbon footprint but may wonder what it is. Do you know how to measure it? Find out how your carbon footprint affects the environment and how you can make your footprint smaller.

Woman calculating carbon footprint

Your carbon footprint is the measurement of how your lifestyle affects the environment, particularly climate change. Everything from the car you drive to the foods you eat can impact the environment. Making even a few small changes can lower your carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the planet.

Primary and secondary sources of your carbon footprint

The sum of your carbon footprint is measured by the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, you emit into the air as a result of the lifestyle choices you make. You can contribute to your carbon footprint through two different categories: primary and secondary. The primary footprint results from the direct emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels for heating and cooling, electricity and transportation. The secondary footprint is caused by indirect emissions of CO2 from manufacturing, consuming and disposing of the products you purchase and use. Over-consumption of products, everything from soda pop cans to nail polish to cell phones, adds to your overall carbon footprint.

Factors that raise your carbon footprint

The fuel sources you use to heat and cool your home, your electricity usage and transportation are the three main factors that contribute to raising your carbon footprint. Fuel sources like gas, oil and coal used to heat and cool homes emit high levels of CO2 into the atmosphere and damage the earth’s ozone layer, which contributes to climate change. Using electricity for your everyday needs also contributes greatly to CO2 emissions because the majority of electricity is powered by coal. Your personal transportation, whether you drive your own car or use public transportation, as well as your air travel, all contribute to raising your carbon footprint.

Although heating, electricity and transportation are the largest sources of CO2 emissions, many smaller lifestyle habits also raise your carbon footprint. Purchasing products that cannot be recycled, buying products that use an abundance of packaging and tossing away waste instead of recycling are all ways of increasing your carbon footprint.

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Lowering your carbon footprint

We all need to heat and cool our homes, drive to work and use electricity in our everyday lives, but while it isn’t possible to completely stop these actions, there are ways to lower your resource usage. Turning down your thermostat in the winter and turning it up in summer will help reduce your heating and cooling usage – as well as reduce your bill. Consider using public transportation if it is available in your area or carpool with others to save on transportation emissions. Take a hard look at your electricity usage and find ways to lower it. Shut down computers when not in use, unplug electronics that are not being used and never leave lights on in an empty room.

Re-evaluate your purchasing and waste removal habits. Consider buying products that are packaged only in recyclable materials. Look for earth-friendly detergents, soaps, shampoos and other products that go down your drains. Always look to buy locally, especially when purchasing produce and other groceries, to lower the amount of transportation emissions. Buy only what you need so that you create less waste, and take reusable bags with you when shopping so you don’t use paper or plastic bags. Small changes to your lifestyle habits can make a big difference in lowering your carbon footprint.

Calculate your carbon footprint below:


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