Carbon Footprint


What It Is

A carbon footprint evaluation measures the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating, transportation, and the production of consumer goods, among other activities, for a particular residence, business, or other unit of analysis (such as a city). Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

There are two levels of carbon footprint analysis, the primary footprint and the secondary footprint. The primary footprint measures the direct emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) for domestic energy consumption and transportation. The secondary footprint measures indirect emissions of CO2 from the lifecycle of products.[1] A number of websites provide free calculation tools to estimate the carbon footprints for both businesses and individual households. Carbon footprint software is also available for purchase.


Why It Matters

Though a carbon footprint calculation measures carbon dioxide emissions in order to determine an organization’s impact on the environment, it can also be a useful tool for determining how a company can reduce its wasteful outputs. This information can be used in turn to reduce expenditures. A carbon calculation will help a company better understand where its emissions are coming from and where in its operations it is most advantageous to make cuts.

Despite some higher upfront costs that may be required to make the transition to lower emission practices, the long term savings can be substantial. Simple steps, such as decreasing travel, using energy efficient products, and increasing building insulation are all strategies to diminish primary CO2 emissions.

Customers and employees value organizations that put an emphasis on environmental sustainability and prefer to do business with them. According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, large corporations’ recognition of this preference drives their initial steps toward improved sustainability.[2] Determining one’s carbon footprint is an important first step towards becoming more environmentally responsible.


Getting Started

    • Step One: Identify a reliable carbon footprint calculator tool.
    • Step Two: Audit your organization to fill in the data that the calculator requires.
    • Step Three: Evaluate your results.
    • Step Four: Develop criteria for reducing emissions.
    • Step Five: Take steps to reduce emissions. 

Step One

There are a number of free carbon footprint calculator tools online that require a number of inputs to determine annual CO2 emissions. Investigate some of these tools to determine what data each tool requires. Choose the tool that fits your requirements and that can be populated with information that you are able to measure. Here are a few calculators you can try: 

Step Two

Gather information from around the organization to fill in to the calculator. This can range from information available on utility bills to the number of people who work at the organization. The more accurate the information, the better an estimate of emissions the calculator tool can make. It’s generally easier to gather the information necessary for determining the primary footprint than for the secondary footprint.


Step Three

Use the information gathered to populate the tool and calculate the organization’s CO2 emissions. After running the tool, interpret the results, looking at both your primary and secondary footprints. 


Step Four

Identify which areas should be addressed right away, and which ones you can address in the long-term. It can be helpful to create a sustainability plan to guide what should be replaced when. 


Step Five: Reduce Emissions 

Once your organization has created a plan, follow it closely to implement change to limit both primary and secondary CO2 emissions. Over the long term these reductions will help to not only cut company costs, but also reduce its overall carbon footprint.


Going Further

    • Step One: Inform suppliers of change.
    • Step Two: Do an annual carbon footprint assessment.

Step One

Make sure to inform your suppliers that you are making a concerted effort to purchase environmentally friendly products. Request updates so that you know when new environmentally products are available.


Step Two

Regularly evaluate carbon emissions to guarantee that organization is continuing on a solid path and promoting innovation.


Case Study


Timberland, an athletic shoe wear company, recently conducted a corporate-wide sustainability overhaul. This included an conducting an emissions inventory, revamping energy efficiency measures in its facilities, incorporating LEED-certified building techniques, implementing new transportation management, and investing in renewable energy. Timberland was able to reduce CO2 emissions by 10,000 tons annually. The development of environmental performance programs that evaluated every level of the business allowed Timberland to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by trimming energy consumption and reducing their CO2 emissions worldwide.[3]


HomeStreet Bank

HomeStreet Bank used a carbon footprint calculation to determine that a majority of its carbon emissions were coming from energy use and commute travel. They selected carbon reduction strategies that maximized opportunities for improvement and minimized business impacts. Additionally, HomeStreet Bank was able to reduce its electricity consumption by cutting computer servers and runtime hours on desktop computers.[4]


Resources for More Information

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: 365 Simple Ways to Save Energy, Resources, and Money by Joanna Yarrow

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business by Trish Riley and Heather Gadonniex

Carbon Footprint, Ltd.

EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator



Understanding an organization’s carbon footprint allows the organization to pinpoint and change the sources of its greenhouse gas emissions. Conducting a carbon footprint calculation is an inexpensive and simple to simultaneously benefit the organization and the environment.


[1] “Help and FAQs for the online Carbon Calculators,” Carbon Footprint LTD, accessed 22 July 2013.

[2] Sheila Bonini and Stephan Gorner, “The business of sustainability: McKinsey Global Survey results,” McKinsey & Company, October 2011,, accessed 22 July 2013.

[3] “Timberland Responsibility,” Timberland, accessed 22 July 2013.

[4] “HomeStreet Bank: A Carbon Footprint Measurement Case Study,” Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment,, accessed 22 July 2013.

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