Understanding Carbon footprint

Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission that is caused by all sorts of activities of an individual or some entity as a whole (factory, buildings, etc.). It is a broader term that generally includes both direct emissions (transport, industries, etc.) and indirect emissions (power generation). It also includes the effects of greenhouse gases (Chlorofluorocarbons, methane, etc.).

The idea of carbon footprint came from the concept of ecological footprint. William Rees, a Canadian ecologist along with Mathis Wackernagel proposed the idea of ecological footprint in the early 90s at the University of British Columbia. An ecological footprint is a broader concept that includes the total area of land required to sustain an activity or population while a carbon footprint is generally measured in weight (Tons) of Carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Photo courtesy – ecomatcher.com

How much control do we have over Carbon Footprint?

Certain activities are in our direct control such as using the transport, spending energy for our households like heating or cooling, etc. The emissions that result from such activities are called ‘Primary Carbon Footprint’. The remaining emissions are not in our direct control such as emissions from food production and its transport. These are called ‘Secondary Carbon Footprint’. We can take an example of a mineral water bottle, the carbon footprint of this bottle is twofold; Carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacturing of this bottle and it also includes the carbon dioxide emission during its transport to the end-user.

What can we do to reduce it?

There are a number of strategies and simple steps that we can take at an individual level to decrease our carbon footprint. A bigger change in carbon footprint can be brought about by the collective efforts of everyone. As every small action taken today can lead to a bigger impact tomorrow.

  • Take a walk or use public transport as most of the primary emissions occur as a result of transport. Walk or cycle for short distances and take public transport for longer ones.
  • Install energy-efficient lighting at homes and offices like LED lights. Incandescent bulbs emit 80% more energy and should be avoided.
  • Use renewable energy sources (solar panels) to generate electricity at home.
  • Consume simple diets. Never go for processed food items. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet (food low on the food chain).
  • Practice Home cooking as ordering online or eating at restaurants cause more emissions.
  • Don’t throw away leftover food. Freeze whatever is left and use it later on.
  • Avoid disposable dishes as their production causes a lot of emissions and is not easily recyclable. It is better to use your utensils and wash them.
  • Buy groceries in bulk to avoid more and more trips to the grocery store. Use reusable bags rather than plastic bags.
  • Avoid items with excess packaging as their production and decompositions cause a lot of emissions.
  • Instead of throwing away old clothes, reuse and recycle them.
  • Insulate your home and install a cool roof so that less energy is consumed for heating/cooling your house.
  • Use low flow taps and showers to minimize loss of water.
  • Prefer Hybrid or electric cars when purchasing a new car.
  • Fly less as airplanes are leading contributors to carbon footprint in the air.

Way Forward!

We as responsible citizens of society should take every single step possible to reduce our carbon footprint on this planet. It does not really mean that we quit living the lifestyle that we have right now. Instead we can make small changes in ourselves and environment around us in order to make our planet more sustainable. In simple words, we should go from a complex to a simpler version of living. A healthy environment promises a healthy you!


  1. Livia Albeck-Ripka, The New York Times, How to reduce your carbon footprint retrieved from
  2. Noelle Eckley Selin, Britannica, Carbon footprint ecology and conservation, retrieved from