Choosing and Using Carbon Calculators the Right Way

Choosing and Using Carbon Calculators the Right Way

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This page may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. There is no additional cost to you whatsoever.

Dozens of governments, nonprofits, and corporations have launched carbon calculator web sites and apps that promise to assist every of us perceive our carbon footprint. But it’s nonetheless early days for these instruments, and lots of questions should be answered. Are they helpful? Do they supply correct data? How can we select the correct calculator?

Choosing a carbon calculator ought to be fairly simple. However, totally different calculators return totally different estimates when the identical or very related data is entered. So, which one is true? Earth911 will take a look at this and different points and supply steerage about find out how to discover and use details about your power consumption, purchases, and extra to get essentially the most correct carbon footprint estimate. We’ll additionally aid you perceive find out how to act on that data to cut back your environmental affect.

Getting Past Big Oil’s Carbon Footprint Spin

Although the idea of a carbon footprint was originally described as part of an “ecological footprint” by two lecturers on the University of British Columbia — William Rees, a Canadian ecologist, and Mathis Wackernagel, a regional planner — it was British Petroleum, now often called BP, that popularized the idea shortly after the flip of the century. In 2004, the corporate launched the primary carbon footprint calculator, which was widely criticized for pushing responsibility for emissions onto shoppers.

Despite the oil business’s blame-deflecting spin, counting our particular person contributions to local weather change could be a constructive approach to perceive what adjustments we are able to make to cut back the emissions related to our diet, transportation habits, home heating, and other aspects of each day life. Fossil gasoline firms do extract and promote emissions-intensive oil, plastic, fertilizers, and chemical substances, however individuals and organizations preserve shopping for.

The local weather downside is everybody’s to resolve, primarily by decreasing our reliance on oil, which is accountable for the overwhelming majority of human-made carbon dioxide within the environment. Without instruments to trace our affect, it’s tough to make adjustments or maintain firms accountable for his or her contribution to the issue. Counting additionally helps you perceive how altering sure habits will scale back your environmental affect essentially the most.

Today, dozens of carbon calculators vie for use and helpful. But, too usually, they don’t clarify how they work or present clear directions about find out how to enter knowledge.

Same Data, Different Footprints

We chosen consultant carbon calculators from the greater than 30 carbon monitoring choices Earth911 has recognized and entered related data into every for 2 situations, a three-person gas-heated house and a single individual dwelling in an electrically heated condominium. The outcomes had been wildly inconsistent, each by way of the estimated affect throughout the totally different carbon calculators and between the outcomes for the big and small properties.

Comparing Carbon Calculator Results chart
Carbon calculators that additionally present the power to buy carbon offsets are indicated by an asterisk.

These differing outcomes illustrate the immaturity of carbon counting requirements and lack of standardized approaches to gathering and monitoring the affect of various actions, resembling the supply of renewable power, journey habits, or the best way every of us retailers.

Calculators are additionally created for various functions — some to assist individuals perceive their affect whereas others are designed to promote carbon offsets. We advocate selecting a calculator based mostly on its accuracy, not the power to buy offsets, which might be bought from quite a lot of respected organizations.

Transparency, Comparability, and Accountability

Science depends on validated, reproducible outcomes that permit anybody to look at the information and methodology used to calculate the outcomes. Climate leaders have endorsed science-based targets that may be measured and in contrast simply, however most local weather footprint websites and apps don’t present any perception into their calculations. This makes evaluating one calculator’s outcomes to a different’s estimated footprint inconceivable for shoppers.

For instance, The Nature Conservancy carbon footprint calculator is powered by one other website,, which presents a hyperlink to “documentation” that consists of a 2013 analysis paper funded by the American Chemical Society, which is funded by the oil and plastic business. The analysis paper doesn’t supply any details about how CoolClimate calculates its carbon footprint outcomes, so shoppers should take the data on religion. This displays the immaturity of carbon accounting and doesn’t essentially imply there’s something nefarious happening.

Making issues worse, the outcomes from totally different carbon calculators can’t be in contrast reliably as a result of they usually use totally different items of measurement (Imperial or metric weights, amongst others) and imprecise descriptions of purchasing or journey habits the consumer is meant to select from. One calculator’s “common shopper” could also be one other’s “heavy shopper.” The outcome from each carbon calculator we now have tried utilizing related knowledge — adjusted for the best way the calculator asks for data — produced very totally different outcomes.

Vague Questions, Inaccurate Estimates

Energy consumption questions within the calculators additionally differ.  Some ask for power consumption in kilowatt hours monthly whereas others ask in your yearly or month-to-month power value. In our preliminary testing of six calculators, one reported {that a} single-person family spending $60 a month on electrical energy produced 3,058 kilos of CO2 yearly. Yet, one other calculator utilizing the identical knowledge reported an affect of 4,526 kilos of CO2, a 48% distinction.

And monitoring journey impacts is wildly inconsistent. Some calculators ask for the miles flown and which cabin you sat in, which does affect your footprint. But others requested solely what number of journeys had been taken or, in a number of instances, how a lot you spent on journey with no reference to particular distances. Since air travel is likely one of the most influential components on one’s whole footprint, these diverging approaches can lead to startlingly totally different footprints.

Local components, resembling the share of renewable power {that a} utility in a selected area generates, are additionally used inconsistently throughout totally different calculators. For occasion, getting into a ZIP code is usually step one to measuring your footprint. There could also be a number of utilities serving the world however we didn’t discover calculators that permit you choose a selected utility, which can have a special renewable power combine than others in your space. More superior calculators ask for a share of electrical energy generated from renewable sources, one thing most individuals don’t know find out how to discover.

We’ll present you find out how to acquire the data that you must estimate your carbon footprint within the subsequent article on this collection.