Decoding Carbon Footprints

Decoding Carbon Footprints

What is carbon footprint and what gets captured under the term?

Carbon Footprint is the total amount of Greenhouse Gas Emissions caused directly and indirectly by our actions. Carbon Footprint Calculators primarily measure food, transportation, energy consumption habits, and the impact thereof on the environment.

The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 14-16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons. Do you know the figure for India? (Keep reading till the end to know the answer)

Sounds interesting, tell me more! 

The carbon footprint concept is related to and grew out of the older idea of ecological footprint, a concept invented in the early 1990s by Canadian ecologist William Rees and Swiss-born regional planner Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia. The ecological footprint is the total area of land required to sustain an activity or population. It includes environmental impacts, such as water use and the amount of land used for food production. In contrast, a carbon footprint is expressed as a measure of weight, as in tons of CO2 or CO2 equivalent per year.

So, which are the different calculators available?

Below is the list of different calculators and a broad overview of their strengths and limitations to enable you to make an informed decision when measuring and tracking.

Carbon Footprint Ltd:

  • This calculator lets you see the impact of each activity as you input the details thus getting activity-wise footprint details. You can choose to check the carbon footprint of one activity or. visit all sections to calculate your full carbon footprint.
  • Calculations are based on specific data points, with significant customizations, making the estimates realistic.
  • This calculator also considers secondary footprint which is a measure of the emissions caused through the manufacture, delivery, and disposal of products and services we buy. The calculator can be added free on your website.


  • It follows the methodology outlined by the UK Government and uses base data on spending based on UK levels. It however allows you to choose the country and uses some country-specific factors like Co2e for electricity consumption.
  • You will observe a difference in the flight emissions here vs when you check directly while booking a flight. The difference is primarily on account of radiative forcing which you may decide to exclude. This is carbon emissions from planes at high altitudes suspected of increased effect on global warming.
  • Doesn’t consider end-of-life in terms of composting, or recycling habits.
  • It directs you to carbon offsetting, however, that is optional.

Global Footprint Network:

  • Calculates both carbon and ecological footprints, providing a holistic view of environmental impact.
  • Option to go by broad approximation or input more specific inputs in terms of frequency of each parameter like eating out or eating red meat or white meat.
  • Considers a holistic view and instead of asking for specific data points goes by approximation and intelligent subjective questions.
  • If you are keen on deep diving into numbers you can sign up and obtain the core data files used which shows you a good comparison among countries as well as core activities like agriculture, land use etc but this doesn't provide activity-wise data from an individual perspective.

Limitations: It does not show the break-up or impact of each activity.

WWF Footprint Calculator:

  • It considers many aspects including different areas of spending, recycling etc and at the same time doesn’t ask for specific data points, so it is quite easy to fill.
  • Offers insights into how personal choices impact the planet and suggests actions for improvement.


  • Results are UK-centric.
  • Does not show the methodology for calculation and shows the overall score under four categories- Home, Food, Travel and Stuff.

Lifestyle Calculator:

  • This calculator uses just 12 simple questions to estimate your carbon footprint.
  • It also gives you some handy tips on reducing your footprint.
  • Shows the change in footprint with each option chosen to show the impact of each choice.
  • Provides the key assumptions and methodology brief which you can deep dive to know more.

United Nations Climate Offset platform

  • This calculator also gives you a footprint estimate based on a few simple questions.
  • Limitation: US centric although the country selection option is available.

Is there any other thing we should know about?

Use the calculators as one of the reference points but not the only reference points.

The good thing is that whatever single positive step you take has an impact on multiple areas. Even if you don’t measure consistently practice it works well when reducing your footprint.

Finally, can you share any smart tips to lower my footprint?

In India, our per-person carbon footprint is still quite low at 2.29 tons per annum compared to the global average of 6.3 tons. However, there is a big watch-out, our footprint is growing at more than 5% per annum, and given our population that has a really big impact on the environment.

The number for India also hides significant variations between urban and rural India as well as across income classes. Some estimates place the carbon footprints of the affluent Indians at 3 times those of the less affluent classes.

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