Carbon footprint

We have all been concerned about saving energy for many years; after all, whether it is gas, electricity or petrol for our cars, it is expensive. But now we continually hear about carbon footprints. What are they and how useful an idea is it?


Whenever a product is made, energy is used. And generating that energy, by burning coal in a power station, for example, releases carbon dioxide into the air. We can measure how much carbon (dioxide) is used to make each product. This is called a ‘carbon footprint’

Energy can be generated by burning coal, gas and oil; from renewable sources such as wind power, or from nuclear reactors. Burning oil, gas or coal releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and keeps the planet warm. As the world’s economy expands, more carbon dioxide is released and most scientists believe the earth is getting warmer. This will change weather patterns, causing droughts, floods and increasingly violent storms. This will affect our ability to grow food and other crops and some areas of the world may become uninhabitable. Most scientists agree that we need to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide.

Industry is being encouraged to reduce energy use and, to help achieve this, to measure how much carbon (dioxide) is used to make each product. This is called a ‘carbon footprint’. To obtain a carbon footprint means looking at everything that goes into making a product and working out how much energy has been used in total. Make a few educated guesses at where all this energy came from and we can convert that into how much carbon dioxide was produced, giving us our carbon footprint.

This is very difficult and many assumptions have to be made. Change some of those assumptions and we get a different answer. It is also time-consuming and expensive, making it particularly difficult for small companies.

More detail about carbon footprints