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A Simple Explanation of Carbon Footprint?

Author Danai Fedra Thomaidou

-What does  “carbon footprint” mean?

The simplest explanation is: the (bad) sign everyone is leaving on the environment, which is so effective that can actually lead to a climate change! More specifically, it is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other polluting gases generated, directly or indirectly, by a certain activity or by accumulated activities over the life stages of a product or a service. Its worst consequence is strengthening the greenhouse effect. According to Kyoto Protocol, which sets obligations between participating countries regarding Carbon dioxide – extending the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- it is clearly stated that gas emissions are responsible for climate change: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitric oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)].

-Can you give me some simple examples of everyday products that enhance the “carbon footprint” on the planet?

Consider that the night has come and it’s dark outside, you have crazy cravings for chocolate and the nearest open shop is 2 km away. Its cold and drizzle out there, you’re freezing, you’re not up for walking but you really want a chocolate NOW, so you decide to go by car.

You might wonder at this stage, what harm a little sweet chocolate could do to the world.

Milk chocolate contains the farming of cows, milk production, cultivation of cocoa seeds and sugar, product development processes and packaging.  It also includes the emissions caused by transporting the product during the distribution to the points of sale as well as the disposal of packaging by the final consumer.

Imagine now, the amount of damage caused by a car! No, I am not only referring to the exhaust. Considering the making-up materials and the processing of them in high-energy capacity factories up to the production line of the vehicle itself, to the petroleum refining, the actual transporting of it, by road or boat, on either side of the planet, to distribute it in all regions, from where, it will be ready for collection/consumption, and be refueled a few liters of petrol or diesel to serve it’s purchasing purpose. You do realize that this life cycle, is constantly emitting vast quantities of harmful gases (and still emits even when the car is actually sent to recycling), and you are also charged as responsible for your individual “carbon footprint”.

Are you impressed or not yet?

Similarly, everything we use, whether it is food, clothing, jewelry, books, electronic devices, any means of transport or means of heating or cooling … generally, everything follows a massive route, which is harmful to the environment and makes it impossible to completely avoid the “carbon footprint”.

-“What are the basic categories of personal consumption that I could be more careful, in order to belittle my own “carbon footprint” in my daily life?”

Well, some good examples are the following:

-The amount and type of energy you consume in your house (electricity, natural gas, batteries etc.)
-The means of transportation you are using (car, train, bus, bicycle etc.)<
-The amount of garbage and recycling levels you achieve
-The type of clothing you are purchasing
-The kind of food you consume

– “So if I stop using products that emit carbon dioxide, then I do not harm the planet?”

Unfortunately, it is not that easy! Even one single use of such a product may cause long-term problems. This is because, as I mentioned above, it covers all the stages of the life cycle of a product and it does not only refer to the final stage of consumption. Without realizing it we are leaving our “carbon footprint” from the production stage to the phase of final disposal. However, more careful and more environmentally conscious consumption in all the products and services we actually use helps to reduce the “carbon footprint”. With our consciousness being always alerted for each one of our product usages, we could actually evolve to a small Benjamin Button leaving in our beach paradise, for example, tiny carbon footprints that does less harm…

Think of how necessary it is to be efficient on all the measures that contribute to lowering emissions of gases by the large enterprises and organizations all around the world (depending on various factors such as the type of business, the number of employees, the type and the amount of energy consumed, the equipment of the business, the type and number of vehicles used as well as the frequency, the distance and ofcourse of the mode of travel).

Similar conditions (according to the Kyoto Protocol) must be attained by every country, which is committed to these, to be recorded, and to gradually contribute to the reduction of the amounts of CO2 emitted during the process of a country’s imports / exports, the quantities of the national tertiary private sector, the quantities emitted from the any government’s and any household’s activities around the world calculating direct (e.g. transport) and indirect (e.g. heating) carbon emissions.

P.S. Calculate your footprint in a playful way below with questions and answers.

WWF UK Multiple-choice Questionnaire to approximately calculate your carbon footprint based on UK’s relevant figures.


Author Danai Fedra Thomaidou

Check out  Zero Waste Europe , where you can have a full inside view on recycling legislations & visions for the past and for the future.

Following is an educational video about How Recycling Works!

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Take good care of yourselves and precious others!

Photography Eleni Kokkorou