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What's a carbon footprint?

What’s a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is a measure of your greenhouse gas emissions. It’s basically your impression on the planet.

CO2 is the main greenhouse gas created by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil. But it’s not the only one – there are others including methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

So when we think of a carbon footprint, it’s usually all the different greenhouse gases converted into an equivalent impact from CO2.

What greenhouse gases am I creating?

It’s a sad truth but you’re creating them all the time – we all are, with everything we do. In fact, us humans are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.

We create greenhouse gases in two ways. Firstly, through directly burning fossils fuels to drive our cars, fly around the world – and power our homes (unless you’re on a 100% green plan). Secondly, we create them indirectly through the manufacture, delivery and disposal of the things we buy.

You might be surprised that almost every daily activity or thing contributes to your ‘secondary’ footprint. Take a look:

  • Food and drink

  • Pharmaceuticals

  • Clothes, textiles and shoes

  • Paper products (e.g. books, magazines, newspapers)

  • Computers and IT equipment

  • Television, radio and phone equipment

  • Cars and motorbikes you own

  • Furniture and other manufactured goods

  • Hotels, restaurants and pubs etc

  • Telephone and mobile phone call costs

  • Banking and finance (mortgage and loan interest payments)

  • Insurance

  • Education

  • Fun, cultural and sporting activities


How many of those things have you already done this morning? Lots, probably. Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to have a zero carbon footprint.

How can I calculate my carbon footprint?

The simplest way to get a rough idea of your carbon footprint is to use a carbon calculator like these:

  • WWF footprint calculator. This gives you a percentage score within 5 minutes. 100% is the average for each person in the UK to meet the UK’s 2020 emissions reduction targets. It also shows your annual carbon emissions in tons, and compares your footprint to the UK and world average.

  • Carbon Footprint calculator. This one not only estimates your carbon footprint, it also gives you the opportunity to offset your emissions by funding a carbon-saving project elsewhere equal to your footprint.

It can quite shocking to discover just how much CO2 you’re generating with the simplest, most innocuous activities.

How do I reduce my carbon footprint?

Although it’s near impossible to have no carbon footprint at all, there are certainly ways to reduce yours. Here are our top 5 tips:

  1. Fly less
    It’s an inconvenient truth that our love of jetting-setting has a huge impact on climate change. Every day, planes burn an eye-watering 5 million barrels of oil, which adds up to around 2.5% of all CO2 pollution.

    Although flying less or taking the train is a surefire way to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s not necessarily the easiest, as flying is still relatively cheap and budget-airline prices are tempting. However, if we don’t curb our air miles, the problem is only going to get worse. By 2040, there could be more than 50,000 planes in the sky.

    Flying less is going to take will power – and a lot of it.

  2. Eat less meat
    The poop, pops and burps from animals, especially cows and sheep, create loads of methane – a potent greenhouse gas. One cow can be responsible for as much as 120 kg of the stuff each year.

    If you can ‘go vegan’, you might be able to reduce your overall carbon footprint by as much a 20%. But if you can’t go the whole hog, simply cutting down will also help.

    At OVO, we have ‘Meat-free Mondays’ in our offices. Why not try that at home?

  3. Insulate your home
    It takes a lot of energy to heat a badly insulated home, as the warm air you’ve paid for will be seeping through the cracks. You could in fact be losing as much as 25% through the roof and 35% through the walls.

    So insulating your roof and filling your cavity walls is a great way to simply cut your carbon footprint – and make your home a lot cosier.

  4. Upgrade your boiler
    Heating accounts for about 60% of your annual energy bill, so an efficient boiler could make all the difference to your footprint and bills. Get in touch with a registered installer from the Competent Persons Register for advice on whether yours would benefit from an upgrade.

  5. Drive less
    Since the average car emits about 411g of CO2 per mile, the distance you drive matters. So seek out alternatives for getting around, such as car sharing, cycling, walking and public transport. These will all reduce the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere.

    However, if using your own car is essential, maybe it’s time to weigh up getting an electric vehicle. They might feel more expensive than standard cars, but new research suggests that they’re fast becoming the cheapest option. Especially when you include perks like our EV Everywhere energy plan, designed especially for EV drivers.

  6. Offset your carbon
    Some people choose to minimise their impact by investing in carbon offsetting schemes, like Carbon Footprint. This is where you pay money into programmes that plant trees or develop renewable energy projects to balance out the carbon in the atmosphere.

    We don’t believe this is the best option. The planet benefits more if everyone tries to reduce their carbon footprint by using less energy in the first place. However, if you have reduced waste as much as possible and still want to do more, investing in carbon offsetting is a good option.

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