by: Leslie Jones
The amount of carbon dioxide or other carbon compounds released into the atmosphere by the activities of an individual, company, country, etc. refers to its “Carbon Footprint.”
The carbon footprint is 54 percent of humanity's overall Ecological Footprint and its most rapidly growing component.
The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. It is a standardized measure of demand for natural capital that may be contrasted with the planet's ecological capacity to regenerate.
According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. emits the equivalent of about 118 pounds of carbon dioxide per resident every day, a figure that includes emissions from industry. Annually, that's nearly 20 metric tons per American, which is about five times the number per citizen than anywhere else in the world.
Carbon labels on foods and other products show the quantity of carbon-dioxide emissions to show just how much is associated with making and transporting those products.
In 2007, a handful of products sold in Britain had the world's first such labels with the idea that they would let shoppers identify products with the smallest carbon footprints. Other labels on products already indicate similar types of things such as dolphin-safe tuna, organic products or Fair-trade coffee. With these labels, consumers would then be able to tell whether, for example, locally made goods were greener than imported ones. After the introduction of carbon labels, competition arose between producers to see who could reduce the carbon footprints of their products.
“Carbon labels have yet to become as widely recognized by consumers as other eco-labels, however. A survey carried out in 2010 by Which?, a British consumer group, found that just one fifth of British shoppers recognized the carbon footprint label, compared with recognition rates of 82% for Fair-trade and 54% for organic labeling.” Considering that carbon labeling is a much more recent development and that organic labeling dates back to the 1970s, and Fair-trade to the late 1980s, it is understandable that these labels are not yet as effective.
Adding a carbon label to a product involves tracing each of its ingredients back along the respective supply chains and through the manufacturing processes to calculate their associated emissions. This is a complex and often costly process that, although progressive and ecologically responsible, may not yield enough of a result to justify.
“According to 3M, an American industrial giant that makes over 55,000 different products, this can cost $30,000 for a single product. To further confuse matters, different carbon footprinting and labeling standards have emerged in different countries, preventing direct comparisons between the various types of label.” Different companies are also counting their products' carbon footprints differently making it even more impossible for consumers to keep track.
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Carbon footprints: Following the footprints | The Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/18750670 (accessed February 24, 2014).
Ecological footprint - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint (accessed February 24, 2014).
Carbon Footprint, http://www.footprintnetwork.org/pt/index.php/GFN/page/carbon_footprint/ (accessed February 24, 2014).
What is the carbon footprint of milk?, http://sustainable.cchrc-research.org/2008/10/what-is-the-carbon-footprint-of-milk/ (accessed February 24, 2014).
You Can Help!
Below are 2 different Carbon Footprint calculators to see what yours is and just how much you and your family can do to counteract it.