How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Posted on January 4th, 2011 by

The average American produces 50,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. That amount of CO2 is like driving a flotilla of 4.3 cars everywhere you went for a year, which seems excessive, doesn’t it? But even without the flotilla, it’s easy to rack up 50,000 pounds of CO2. It comes from powering your home, using personal electronics, driving your car or traveling once or twice a year by plane.

You don’t have to swear off carbon to make a difference. The best way to take responsibility for your climate impact is to calculate your carbon footprint, see what areas you can reduce and then offset what you can’t.

This image is an example of a custom carbon calculator.

The first step to calculating your footprint is assessing your direct energy use – emissions produced largely by driving your car, heating and cooling your home, or traveling. provides a number of free online calculators that help tabulate your direct energy consumption.

  • Home: Many calculators provide national averages, but if you feel you use less electricity or gas than the average American, it’s good to gather your utility bills before beginning. You’ll want to know how much electricity, natural gas and heating oil your home consumes. The calculator will take into consideration the location (seasonal temperatures influence heating and cooling) and number of people living there.
  • Car: Enter the car’s make and model and the calculator will determine the fuel efficiency, as provided by EPA assessments, and then calculate the amount of CO2 emitted for the number of miles driven each year.
  • Travel: The carbon footprint of plane, train and bus trips depends on how many miles you travel and how energy intensive your vessel is, with planes being the most and busses the least.

Only 40 percent of the average American’s footprint comes from direct energy use. The other 60 percent is indirect, which is why the next step in calculating your carbon footprint is determining the impact of the goods you buy and the services you use.

Traditional manufacturing creates an average 4-8 pounds of CO2 for every pound of product, which is why choosing to work with sustainably minded businesses is so important. Once you know where your carbon footprint came from, you can take steps to reduce where you can (for example, choosing a more fuel-efficient car) and going carbon neutral by offsetting to balance out the rest.

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