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Energy expert Peter Gudde explains how you can work out – and reduce – your carbon footprint

I was asked recently by a neighbour to advise them what they could do to cut their carbon footprint. They had been refurbishing a house which they had moved into a couple of years previously and had reached a bit of a crossroads. Seeing all the press coverage about climate emergencies they wanted to play their part and had an opportunity to make a change but what would be for the best.

What would be for the best? Hmm, a tricky one. Where to start?

Well, starting at the beginning. How big is your carbon footprint? What do you want to achieve? What are you personally prepared to do?

What's your carbon footprint? (13065332)
What's your carbon footprint? (13065332)

These questions brought into mind a couple of news articles I saw last week. The first article referred to Chancellor of Exchequer, Phillip Hammond’s response to the Government’s newly-adopted ‘net-zero’ carbon target that it would cost £1 trillion by 2050 which, in his view, would divert money away from other public services.

The second article focused on a family which had adopted an off-grid lifestyle, creating a home out of recycled materials, generating their own power and harvesting water. Although a totally valid life-style approach, the story’s headline said that this was the way that we would need to be living in 2050 to achieve the net-zero carbon emissions target.

Well, neither the Chancellor’s analysis nor the media article is correct in my opinion.

The first is an example, as I mentioned last month, of focusing on the cost while ignoring the inter-dependence we have with our environment, the imperative that we face if we do not act to deal with climate change or the benefits which would result.

The second presumes that all of us have the wherewithal to make such life-style changes and ignores the uncomfortable fact that some of us would rather avoid doing the really hard stuff ourselves.

Let’s face it, we now have meerkats sorting out our energy contract, albeit backed up by some very clever computer programming. This says a lot about how many of us want a simple life when it comes to energy and don’t care, or feel we have very little influence, about how its produced. It also is not helped by the fact that the retail energy market is just too complicated. That’s another story.

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So, turning back to my neighbour’s question, knowing what makes up your footprint will help you to make more informed choices. What you then do very much depends on your circumstances and what you are prepared to do.

The electricity and gas we use in our homes, the cars we drive, the flights we take are the visual parts of our footprint. Then there’s the carbon emissions which are invisible, embedded in the products and services we buy. The food that we eat, the clothes we wear, and the water we drink all have a carbon footprint. Even financial services like banking have an impact, whether that’s directly through the carbon footprint of the business selling you their product or the decisions they take when they invest your money.

To measure the visible part of your carbon footprint, you can use a web-based tool published by CarbonFootPrint.com or if you want a wider environmental angle the calculators developed by WWF or the Global Footprint Network take account of other things like waste and pollution.

You could go old school and calculate it yourself but be aware about the values you use to estimate the impact of each unit of energy or fuel as these can vary. When you have calculated your footprint for the visible stuff, depending on what you have included I suggest that you double your result to take account of those invisible emissions.

Knowing what makes up your carbon footprint will help you to compare it with others and then allow you to prepare a plan. It’s then a question of what to take on first. But that’s for another column.

Try out one of these web-based calculators to see the size of your carbon footprint then compare it with friends and family:

-- www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

-- https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/

-- www.footprintnetwork.org/

If you are a business, try out:

-- www.carbon-calculator.org.uk/

-- www.carbontrust.com/resources/tools/carbon-footprint-calculator/

-- Peter Gudde is an energy advisor and environmental researcher