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What are the Types of Carbon Footprint?

What are the Types of Carbon Footprint?

What are the Types of Carbon Footprint?

What are the Types of Carbon Footprint?

Carbon footprints have become a very important term of late. However, with popularity comes dubiousness regarding the exact nature of carbon footprints, due to a number of definitions. Today, we’ll walk you through the various kinds of carbon footprints so you can decide which one applies to you.

First off, however, the focus is on getting a comprehensive, robust definition of a carbon footprint. Then, major categorizations of carbon footprints (primary and secondary, product and corporate) are outlined. Knowing about carbon footprints can help you figure out how to calculate and reduce your carbon liability.

Defining and Calculating Carbon Footprints

Carbon footprints are a comprehensive measure of your complete usage of resources which have direct or indirect production of greenhouse gases as a byproduct. It is calculated by taking the following factors into account:

  1. The amount of carbon dioxide produced during operation, along with other greenhouse gases such as fluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide etc.
  2. The overall waste produced during manufacturing processes (if applicable).
  3. The energy needed to operate air conditioning systems as well as the building/office on the whole.
  4. Energy consumed while transporting the final goods to the customer.

Other factors may be incorporated, but these are the most prone to carbon emission - and hence given priority. This, however, only covers direct emissions. Indirect emissions are just as big a part of emissions calculations. Subsidiaries, and other companies along the value chain of the final product are also considered.

A company can have its carbon footprint calculated either by an online calculator (which aren't very comprehensive) or by hiring certain experts in the field of carbon emissions. Hence, to avoid unnecessary trouble with excess emissions, it's best to understand how to offset carbon liabilities by calculating them properly.

Primary and Secondary Carbon Footprints

Primary carbon footprints are those which have a direct relation with the way we burn fossil fuels directly. Hence, this category includes our transportation sources such as railways, road transport as well as aviation. It also includes electricity consumption for energy produced using sources such as coal and natural gas. Water consumption is also an integral part.

On the other hand, secondary carbon footprints consider the emissions which result from our indirect relation to them, such as purchasing clothes which come from far away. The emissions from their manufacture and transportation are counted as a part of secondary carbon footprints.

The secondary carbon footprint also, however, considers what happens to these products once they are no longer of use to us - such as the time and possibility of decomposition naturally. (Plastic products score very poorly here.) It also considers recyclability and reusability.

Product and Corporate Carbon Footprint

Technically speaking, carbon footprints are divided into two distinct categories. These categories are product carbon footprint (PCF) and corporate carbon footprint.  Both are crucial indicators of your carbon liability, hence it is essential to know how they are calculated. This invariably will help you to mitigate your carbon excesses.

While product carbon footprint focuses more on the life cycle of the particular product, corporate carbon footprints are more concerned with the overall carbon emissions of the company as well as its subsidiaries. Both have subtleties of their own, hence it's critical to understand both of them clearly.

Product Carbon Footprint

The life of a product sees a lot of changes happen to it on a chemical and physical level. All this, from being conceptualized to being used by the consumer, and ultimately ending up being discarded and consumed, has a definite cost associated with it in terms of emissions.

Hence, the total carbon emissions over the life cycle of a product are termed as product carbon footprint (PCF). The product carbon footprint encompasses both primary and secondary carbon footprints, and considers each and every step. There can be two ways to calculate it:

  • Cradle-to-grave PCF considers each phase of the product, from raw material stages to being discarded after use or otherwise consumed.
  • Cradle-to-gate PCF considers only the phases from raw materials to being fully produced and ready for use.

Generally, cradle-to-grave PCFs are given more credence.

The standards governing PCF calculations include the GHG protocol adopted in 2011, the PAS 2050 (revised) and the newly revised ISO 14067:2018. All of these standards differ in certain definitions, but the premise remains the same: to account for carbon emissions across the life of the product.

Corporate Carbon Footprint

The corporate carbon footprint covers a much wider base of activities, since it considers the entire business as a whole and calculates carbon emissions for the whole setup. From the manufacture of all of its products to them being discarded and disposed off, it is a comprehensive stock-taking of the corporation’s carbon liability.

All the activities which the company performs, including transportation of goods, business trips, cumulative energy expenditure, and the company’s recycling strategy are considered under the company’s carbon footprint. There are many other factors coming into the picture as well.

There are a number of standards that come into the picture according to which the total carbon emissions are calculated. These include the GHG Protocol and certain ISO standards pertaining to carbon emissions and energy auditing.  

Bringing It All Together

Carbon footprints are a necessary tool to accomplish the goal of reducing carbon emissions in order to make the world a more sustainable place. There are a number of ways to consider what a footprint actually means: you may decide to think of the product (if you have a tangible product), or the corporate definition may fit your emission reduction agenda better.

Hence, choosing a definition in order to proceed with taking steps to reduce carbon emissions depends entirely on the kind of business in question. The primary and secondary emissions are more pertinent when a single individual is being considered, and hence not as comprehensive.

Knowing how the carbon footprint is actually calculated and the various standards in use today can help you save a lot when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint.  

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