Carbon Footprinting and Budgeting

Carbon Footprinting can help us work out where our choices contribute to carbon emissions. It can also help us to see which changes are especially important to make.

Once we understand where we are generating Greenhouse Gases we can them set ourselves a Carbon Budget each year to steadily bring down our emissions.

It’s not about wearing a hair shirt – you will find that your well-being improves!

What’s the issue?

Levels of Greenhouses Gases continue to rise and whilst governments and businesses need to redesign their systems there is a lot we can do. Check out our blog here to get more info.

To put things in perspective, the average UK person’s Greenhouse Gas usage is around 12 tonnes per annum. We need to bring this down to 7 tonnes p.a. as soon as possible.

If we estimate our current usage we can then set ourselves an annual target to decrease this. So, as transport is such a big issue, we could set a reducing mileage target? Or we could budget ahead to invest in solar panels, or whatever works for us.

This will involve choices affecting our lifestyles – but where best to start?

What is a Carbon Footprint?

A Carbon Footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by either an individual, organization, the production of an item. Whilst expressed as a CO2 equivalent it includes other GHGs e.g. Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone.

A footprint can be worked out for an individual purchase or for a person’s or household’s impact. Most on-line Carbon Footprint calculators (see below) calculate an annual figure.

Defining the carbon footprint of everything is impossible. All calculations are estimates because there are so many variables, but they are valuable to help make choices.

If you really want to explore the impact of your purchases and activities get hold of a copy of Mike Berners-Lee’s excellent book How Bad are Bananas.

If you buy only one book this year – make it this one!

Some further considerations – whilst we directly generate a carbon footprint of our own, behind our lifestyle choices lie indirect emissions causes by the production and transport of our goods and services.

Nationally, we are told that the UK is doing very well in reducing emissions. That is true on the home energy front. However, when emissions caused in the countries which are manufacturing and transporting our imports are added in then the UK doesn’t look good at all – the diagram shows that the UK is unusual in importing such as high proportion of its goods.

We also need to think about historic emissions – those which we have already happened. If products have already put Greenhouse Gases into the atmosphere once it’s best not to put more up there by repurchasing a similar product – let’s repair things or buy secondhand rather than brand new!

Your purchasing choices matter as they affect climate change and other ethical issues such as biodiversity loss.

Whilst it’s important that we do our bit with lifestyle changes and by choosing where we spend our money, it will take a general “decarbonisation” by businesses and governments to achieve the reductions needed. For more on how we can influence and lobby decision makers please see our blog here .

How to calculate your Carbon Footprint

There are a number of websites which offer to estimate your footprint but a good place to start is the popular calculator on the Carbon Savvy website. This will give you a general idea of where you are. It takes 5 minutes as it is based on info that most people have in their heads. The full calculator requires having your fuel bills to hand and takes around 45 minutes.

This website will give estimate your current footprint and will give you ideas about what you might do to reduce it, together with some figures on how much CO2 you can save by taking each action.

You may be surprised that you generate less than you think, especially if you don’t fly or drive that much.

How to set a carbon budget

If you can see where you stand now you can set yourself appropriate targets for future years, based on the recommendations made by the website. If these are not appropriate to you, or you want a more accurate estimate, have a look at How Bad are Bananas. You can work out the carbon footprint of things you do use without fixating on every last thing. You can then start to understand the relative impact of different choices we can take.

Once you get a feel for how much CO2 is embodied in products you can start to chose whether to spend your carbon budget on certain things.

For example, some things you can do will make a big difference:

  • If you score highly (badly) on transport you could set yourself a mileage reduction target – let’s go local more often. Driving an average car for the average mileage (7,600 miles) can use between 25% and 200% of a 5 tonne lifestyle, depending on whether you have a fuel efficient car or a gas guzzler.
  • Downsize the car could bring save both money and your carbon budget.
  • If you fly a lot – try staying in this country more often. If you’ve got to fly then see if you can go less often but stay for longer.
  • Maybe that unavoidable flight is within your carbon budget if you are frugal in other choices.
  • Take action to make your home more energy efficient – see our blog here for the key tips.
  • Look for second hand – you’ll be surprised how much carbon is embodied in buying new. Need a new computer? Does it have to be brand new? If not you could save money and save your carbon budget between 300 to 600 kilos of CO2 per machine.
  • Commit to buy only fruit and veg which is in season – for example, just one kilo of tomatoes grown in a Dutch (heated) polytunnel in March will cost your budget 28 kilos of CO2.
  • Plan ahead for following years and research how to choose the most sustainable options – what to do about the car, or maybe invest in solar panels?
  • And so on – it’s about a new mindset – think “Carbon Budget”.

To help you SinCH has gathered the most effective tips in a series of CO2 saving checklists:

So, in summary:

  • Start by taking a look at the key actions on our Living More Sustainably web page and our blog here.
  • Download our Carbon Checklists to help you.
  • Then dig deeper to estimate your own Carbon footprint.
  • Set yourself a Carbon Budget reduce your footprint steadily.
  • Become more aware of the CO2 implications in our choices.
  • Start with the easiest actions – many are simple but make a real difference.
  • You can’t do everything at once – pick your battles.
  • There is a limit to what personal actions can achieve, so it’s also vital to influence politicians and business leaders.
    • Exert your influence on businesses – choose where you spend your money.
    • Join national and local campaigns to push for positive action.
    • See our blog on Reducing Greenhouse Gases for some more ideas.
  • You’ll also find that your well-being improves and perhaps your bank balance.

If you have any comments on how this page can be improved or any questions please let us know at


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