Carbon Calculation Simplified

Wed, 2013-11-13 12:21

“We're running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.” – Elon Musk,

This statement from entrepreneur and innovator Elon Musk is evidence that climate scientists are not alone in expressing concern over the environmental impacts of carbon emissions resulting from human activities. There is a growing awareness of the business case for sustainability, as it becomes clear that environmental sensitivity is crucial to long-term business survival.

Powerful corporations such as Disney, Walmart, and Google are examining business operations to target a reduction in carbon emissions and curb pollution. Their progress is creating trends in renewable energy and urging (or pressuring) suppliers to disclose their own sustainability performance. Companies are addressing carbon emissions to clean up supply chains, future-proof critical business resources, reduce waste, improve the procurement process, uncover inefficiencies, and save money.


carbon calculator graphicFor anyone new to the carbon footprint concept, the best place to start is with measurement. Several free online tools are available to reduce the fear of complicated math and calculations that can delay efforts. The tools help guide research and facilitate action plans, opening up opportunities in all sectors, including households and office-based businesses.

Emissions Tools for the Office

To evaluate carbon emissions associated specifically with office-based business operations, there is the EPA’s Office Carbon Footprint Tool. The tool is set up in a comprehensive spreadsheet format that can be downloaded for user-friendly data input. The tabs across the bottom guide users through the process, and embedded formulas take care of most of the calculations and conversions. Links throughout the tool connect users to additional information to support of carbon reduction efforts.

Household Resources

For a very basic calculation of individual or household emissions, The Nature Conservancy hosts a Free Carbon Footprint Calculator on its website. The online tool guides uses through categories such as home energy, driving and flying, food and diet, and recycling and waste to determine how many tons of greenhouse gases the individual, or household, contributes to the atmosphere. Based on responses to simple questions, scores are calculated for each category, allowing users to prioritize and focus on areas with the greatest impact. The results also include comparisons to U.S. averages.

carbon calculator screen shot

Putting It in Perspective

Using the numbers from the calculators, the EPA has made it easy to understand what the measurements mean in everyday terms. The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator provides an effective way to illustrate, in relatable terms, the impacts of carbon and the potential improvements from reductions. For example, the average person in the U.S. contributes 27 tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 5 passenger vehicles.

Catalyst for Change

Carbon calculators and equivalency convertors are more than tools to simplify math, they are a catalyst for change and a roadmap for attaining goals. By identifying impacts, measuring them, targeting problem areas, and understanding the magnitude of improvements, individuals and businesses are empowered to make changes for the better. To learn more about identifying and achieving cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions, check out Everblue’s Certified Sustainability Manager course.

By Amy Malloy

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