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This is a sponsored article from SustainabilityTracker.com member Carbonhalo.
Firstly, carbon is an element that is found everywhere. It’s the backbone of life on Earth. We are made of carbon, we eat carbon, our civilisations—our economies, our homes, our means of transport—are built on carbon. Carbon has the ability to bind itself to many different molecules making it extremely versatile forming delicious foods we eat to super hard metals and sparkling diamonds.
So what do we mean when we talk about a carbon footprint? A carbon footprint essentially is the total carbon emissions or (greenhouse gas) caused by an individual, event, organisation, service, place or product expressed as Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e), there are seven main gases that make up a carbon footprint they are:
An individual’s carbon footprint is directly impacted by the lifestyle choices we all have:
The average Australian has a carbon footprint between 15-19 tonnes of CO2e per year.
So if carbon is a natural element why the focus on carbon footprints and the need to reduce them?
Climate change has always existed as there are natural fluctuations in the temperature of the sun, the orbit and tilt of the earth as well as natural events such as volcanic eruptions that put various gases into the atmosphere. Data indicates that climate change has accelerated particularly over the last 100 years or so.
As we mentioned before carbon has the ability to bind to various elements to form very useful things. Because it has this ability it does not stay locked in one place, it moves between different storage vessels like our bodies, trees, soil, atmosphere etc, known as the carbon cycle.
Over the long term, the carbon cycle maintains a balance that prevents all of Earth’s carbon from entering the atmosphere or from being stored in a single location like rocks. This balance helps keep Earth’s temperature relatively stable, like a thermostat.
The carbon cycle has two parts; a slow cycle and a fast cycle.
The slow carbon cycle, through a series of chemical reactions and tectonic activity, takes between 100-200 million years to move between rocks, soil, ocean, and atmosphere.
Whereas the fast carbon cycle is measured in a lifespan. The fast carbon cycle is largely the movement of carbon through life forms on Earth, or the biosphere. This carbon moves from:
Left unperturbed, the fast and slow carbon cycles maintain a relatively steady concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, land, plants, and ocean. But when there are significant changes of the amount of carbon in one reservoir, this ripples through the others.
Since the 1800’s and our industrial progression vast amounts of carbon sitting within the slow cycle is being moved to the fast cycle, by burning fossil fuels, clearing land and other human activity.
All of this carbon moved from the slow cycle needs to go somewhere. So far, land plants and the ocean have taken up about 55 percent of the fast carbon people have put into the atmosphere while about 45 percent has remained in the atmosphere.
The flow on effects are with the various gases that remain in our atmosphere. They act as a blanket that warms the planet (this helps plants grow more) but also impacts weather making it more erratic and intense, heating up oceans making the water more acidic, which puts marine life in danger.
We are seeing the impacts of climate change more regularly with extreme weather, in Australia more recently bush fires, floods and storms. By being aware of our impact we can then take action to minimise the movement of carbon from the slow cycle into the fast carbon cycle helping slow the effects of extreme climate change.
If each Australian was able to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% (8t CO2e per year) that would equate to approx. 200M tCO2 averted from our atmosphere. Worked example: lets use the lower end of the average Australian carbon footprint of 16t CO2e, 50% of this is 8t CO2e multiplied by the estimated Australian population of 25M. (8tCO2e x 25M = 200Mt CO2e)
Reducing our individual and business carbon footprint is not difficult.
The first step is to measure it. Why?
It’s very difficult to quantify your effort and actions if you don’t understand or know where you started. Having a baseline of what your footprint is now identifies the areas where you can have the biggest impact and allows you to remember at a later date to see your impact. This not only provides a positive reinforcement of your effort, but also then highlights the next priority areas to focus on.
There are a number of free tools available that can be used to estimate your carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is represented on an annual basis and expressed as tCO2e (tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent).
Carbonhalo provides both individuals and businesses free calculators.
The Carbohalo personal calculator uses Australian national data for households across 5 main key areas including Household, Energy, Waste, Vehicles, and Travel.
The Carbonhalo business calculator provides a customised business carbon footprint using real business data.
The most significant point comes after the measurement. Starting to look at areas where we can reduce this impact.
The best way to reduce emissions is to avoid generating them in the first place. How?
Reducing consumption means asking yourself a question; is this a want or need?
This will not only help reduce your emissions but will also save you money. Look at options to reuse, recycle or upcycle products you buy only disposing of them when another use can’t be found.
Once you have done what you can to either avoid emissions or adjust consumption, you can now reduce emissions by changing the process of how things are done. Making processes more efficient normally means reducing waste or effort. This might be changing just one step in a process that can eliminate some waste.
Look for opportunities to only use ethical and sustainable businesses and products that have the same values as you this includes your primary energy source.
After attempting the steps above there will likely be some remaining emissions. This is where offsetting or carbon credits can help balance these emissions out by funding climate active projects. An individual or business can enlist the services of organisations like Carbonhalo that can automate your offset strategy into certified projects.
This is an article from a SustainabilityTracker.com Member. The views and opinions we express here don’t necessarily reflect our organisation.