What It Is
A carbon footprint measures the impact of various daily activities on the environment. The calculation measures the amount of greenhouse gases produced day to day from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation.
A normal carbon footprint can be divided into two portions, 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 products.  A number of websites provide free calculation tools to estimate the carbon footprints for both businesses and individuals/households. A simple Internet search of “carbon footprint calculators” will help you find these sites. The EPA also provides a Household Emissions Calculator for use in individuals homes. Carbon footprint software is also available to purchase.
Why It Matters
While a carbon footprint calculation measures CO2 emissions to help track an individual’s or organization’s impact on the environment, it can also be a useful tool to help a company track areas where it can reduce its wasteful outputs and as a result, its 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 cut.
Carbon footprint calculations are an inexpensive easily completed tool that can result in large savings for an organization. Despite some higher upfront costs required to make the transition to lower emission practices, the long term savings that would result could be substantial. Simple steps, such as decreasing travel, utilizing energy efficient products, and increasing building insulation, can all be strategies to diminish primary CO2 emissions.
Customers and employees value organizations that put an emphasis on environmental sustainability. The knowledge that they are contributing to a company that is socially and environmentally conscious has innumerable influences on individual preferences. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, large corporations’ recognition of this preference has actually driven their initial steps toward improved sustainability. Determining ones carbon footprint is a solid step in the right direction toward becoming more environmentally responsible.
To better understand where outputs are being wasted and where costs can be reduced, an organization:
- Identify a reliable Carbon Footprint Calculator Tool
- Audit areas within the organization to determine information to fill in the calculator
- Complete the tool and evaluate the results
- Develop criteria for primary areas to reduce emissions
- Reduce emissions
1. Identify Carbon Footprint Calculator Tool
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 the tools to determine what inputs each tool requires for the calculation to see whether the information is attainable. Choose the tool that fits your requirements and is able to be populated with reasonable information. Here are just a few calculators you can try:
2. Audit departments within the organization to gather data for calculator
Gather information from around the organization to fill in to the calculator. This can range from the cost of 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.
3. Complete Tool and Evaluate Results
Utilize the information gathered to populate the tool and calculate the organizations CO2 emissions. After running the tool, perform a preliminary interpretation of the results and look at the split of emissions between the primary and secondary footprint fields.
4. Develop criteria to determine initial areas/sectors to reduce emissions within organization
It is important to identify which priority areas should be addressed right away to produce the least emissions and most cost savings. It could be helpful to create a transition map to guide what should be replaced when. Once your organization has created a plan, follow it closely to implement change to both internal and external CO2 emissions.
5. Reduce Emissions
Once key areas for reduction are identified begin to take steps to make those reductions. Long term these reductions will help to not only cut company costs, but also reduce its overall CO2 emissions.
To further utilize a carbon footprint, your business can:
- Inform suppliers of change: Make sure to inform your suppliers that you are making a concerted effort to purchase environmentally friendly products and request updates when new environmentally products are available.
- Promote annual carbon footprint assessment: Continuously evaluate carbon emissions to guarantee that organization is continuing of a solid path, while promoting innovation.
Timberland athletic and shoe wear company recently conducted a corporate-wide sustainability overhaul, including an emissions inventory, upgrading energy efficiency measures in its facilities, incorporating LEED-certified building techniques, implementing new transportation management, and investing in renewable energy. Through these techniques 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. 
HomeStreet Bank recently utilized a carbon footprint calculation to determine that a majority of its carbon emissions was coming from energy use and commute travel. Through its carbon footprint calculation they were able to determine the organizational boundary, establish a baseline, identify scope of impacts, and collect data. They selected carbon reduction strategies to maximize opportunities and minimize business impacts. Additionally, HomeStreet Bank was able to further reduce its electricity consumption by cutting computer servers and runtime hours on desktop computers.
Resources for More Information
- How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: 365 Simple Ways to Save Energy, Resources, and Money by Joanna Yarrow. Chapter topics range from techniques in reducing carbon footprint through heating and cooling to cooking and cleaning to working and child rearing
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to: Greening Your Business by Trish Riley and Heather Gadonniex. Chapter 6, “Calculating and Reducing Your Carbon Footprint” specifically focuses on business reasons for carbon footprinting, calculating a footprint, identifying key carbon accounting tools and organization, and the role of carbon offsets.
- Carbon Footprint provides solid information about carbon footprints along with a free carbon calculator and tips to reduce your footprint.
- EPA Household Emissions Calculator provides an estimate of greenhouse gas emissions and allows for people to play with inputs to see how various actions can reduce emissions
Understanding an organization’s carbon footprint enables the organization to track its emissions and monitor its environmental impact. Gaining a solid grasp of this information will allow an organization to identify key areas where emissions can be cut and money can be saved. Conducting a carbon footprint calculation is an inexpensive and simple to complete way to simultaneously benefit the organization and the environment.
 Information retrieved from Carbon Footprint.
 Information retrieved from “McKinsey Global Survey Results: The business of sustainability” on October 8, 2011
 Information retrieved from Case Study: Timberland Reducing the Corporate Carbon Footprint One Step at a Time on December 3, 2011
 Information retrieved from HomeStreet Bank: A Carbon Footprint Measurement Case Study on December 3, 2011