Archive for October, 2009

How to measure your carbon footprint

Posted in environment on October 27, 2009 by gohelpyourself
foot print

Watch your carbon footprint. (photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It’s funny how some people collect big, macho, gas-guzzling cars and yet claim to care for the environment. Some even flaunt their colossal Hummers, Jeeps, Jaguars, BMWs and Volvos. You’d think they have carbon footprints as big as Makati City.

And if you ask them if they do know the carbon footprints of their cars, you might get beautiful pictures of tire tracks instead.

It seems pretty obvious to me. With the little I remember from my physics class in high school, big cars need more fuel. And more fuel burned means more greenhouse gasses are released into the air. And more greenhouse gasses in the air means a greater risk for global warming.

So what do we do? The simple answer is to measure our carbon footprint first.

As that hoary management adage goes, you cannot change what you cannot measure.

So let’s define first what carbon footprint means. A carbon footprint is simply the amount of greenhouse gases, or GHGs, that a person, a creature or any company produces or causes to produce.

The word carbon footprint usually applies to companies, organizations or countries. But it fits perfectly for individuals as well.

If you’re afflicted with a bad case of flatulence, you release carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases, through that big opening between your cheeks up north, or through that smaller opening between your more flabby cheeks down south.

You can say flatulent people have slightly bigger carbon footprints.

Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). A carbon footprint is measured in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

A ton of CO2 has a carbon footprint of 1 tCO2e. A ton of methane, the second most popular greenhouse gas, has a carbon footprint of 25 tCO2e. It’s 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas.

Here are the steps for measuring your carbon footprint:

1.  Identify your emission sources. Typical sources include the use of electricity, travel by car, bus or train, amount of products, liquids, or materials, and liters of liquid fuel oil, LPG or petrol.

2.  Collect the data. Standard measurements include kilowatt hours (kWh) for electricity, passenger kilometers (pkm) for distance travelled by a person, vehicle kilometers (vkm) for distance travelled by cars owned, tons or kilograms of materials such as paper, supplies, computers, etc., and liters of LPG or other liquid fuels.

3.  Compute the tCO2e for each emission source and add them up. There are conversion factors that must be used for each emission source. Please see sample computation in the table below.

Emission Source Amount (per year) Unit Conversion Factor Carbon footprint(kg CO2, per year)
Electricity 1,800 kWh 0.5370 966.60
Travel by bus 1,680 pkm 0.1073 180.26
Travel by private car 800 vkm 0.1979 158.32
LPG 70 liters 1.495 104.65
TOTAL 1,409.83

The conversion factors are based on UK measurements. I have no idea how much the numbers would differ in Asian countries like the Philippines. But if you just want to have a rough baseline for measuring your carbon footprint, these conversion factors would suffice.

And now that you have an idea of your carbon footprint, you can take measures to reduce its size, and do your share in making our world a little bit more livable longer.

“But why should you do it?” you may ask. Well, try using the grandfather test. What will you say to your grandchildren if they ask you what you did to make the world a better place for them?

Too much greenhouses gasses and gas-guzzling cars are bad enough. Maybe it’s a good idea not to be “greenhouse asses” as well.

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