Use this simple tool to calculate your ecological footprint and carbon emissions.
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Estimating your carbon footprint accurately is actually pretty difficult: every purchase you make over a year results in a complex supply chain that produces emissions. This calculator is intended to give you a rough idea of your own footprint, by starting from the UK average, and adjusting it to better reflect you.
To get an estimate of your own footprint simply adjust each slider to reflect the best description of your lifestyle. Although this calculation will not be 100% accurate, it will give you an idea of what you can do to changes things: it’s intended to show you what part(s) of your lifestyle may cause the most emissions.
If you would like more information to help put this figure into context, please continue reading this guide; we’ll try to help you understand how your carbon footprint compares.
In 2014 the average carbon footprint of a UK citizen was around 13t CO2e, an output roughly comparable to flying around the world. This is about half that of the average American, and almost double the global average of 7t CO2e.
This figure is what we call the ‘consumption footprint’, and includes all the emissions that result from the full supply chain of goods and services consumed in the UK. Around 50% of these emissions occurred in the UK itself, while 14% were from Europe, 10% from China and 9% from Africa. It has fallen considerably from its peak of almost 18t CO2e in 2004, due largely to reducing emission intensities in the power and transport sectors.
We can see how it has changed in the graph below:
The lower line in this graph is what we call the ‘production footprint’. This is, simply put, all of the emissions that occur within the UK divided by the population. This figure has fallen from 13.6t CO2e per capita in 1990 to 8.8t CO2e in 2014.
The large gap between these two types of carbon footprint reflects the fact that UK consumers buy a large number of carbon-intensive goods produced overseas. Of the total consumption footprint, a full 89% of the total is paid for by household consumption, while the remaining 11% is paid for by government purchases and capital investment.
The easiest way to understand what causes our carbon footprints is to think about them in terms of which purchases result in the most emissions. In the graph below we break down the UK’s collective carbon footprint into a few major sectors.
Spending on energy is the largest source of emissions at 24% of the total; services comes in next at 23%, followed by transport at 21%; food comes in at 13% and products result in around 12% of total emissions; clothes and construction make up the total: to put this in perspective, think about the following actions:
If all electricity use in the UK switched to renewables overnight, this would cut the total by 18%. If all cars ran on renewable electricity, this would cut 14% of emissions. If all homes were heated renewably, this would cut our emissions by 7%.
Although you are likely to have a reasonable footprint from both services used and physical products purchased, it makes far more sense to consider energy, transport and food first, as they are the easiest to change.
Having a good sense of perspective is crucial if you want to make meaningful reductions to your carbon footprint. Things like using fewer plastic bags, cutting food miles or unplugging your mobile phone may be well intentioned, but their contribution to your footprint is likely to be measured in kilograms, rather than tonnes.
For the typical UK resident, the five parts of the carbon footprint most likely to exceed a tonne each year are: gas, electricity, car travel, air travel and diet. Spending on products and services also causes considerable emissions, but it makes little sense to tackle them first, as spending on them results in relatively few emissions per pound.
The easiest way to cut your carbon footprint is to focus on those areas that create the most carbon per pound of spending or what we call carbon intensity (kg CO2e/£). Below you can see how carbon intensive different forms of spending are:
Spending on electricity, air travel and natural gas have the largest footprints per pound, as a large proportion of that money goes directly towards the combustion of carbon-intensive fuels. Dairy, fuels for cars and meat are also relatively intensive. Services like financial, legal and domestic help have very low intensities, however, as the majority of that spending goes towards paying people.
What this means is that on average, £1,000 spent on electricity produces 3.6t of carbon, while the same amount spent on health services results in 250kg. Now, obviously you can’t just switch your spending between these two – but if you do want to cut your footprint, you should focus on the most intense sources of emissions: they are the easiest to change.
Here are the five most important things to consider when reducing your footprint.
Here are five additional things worth considering.