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The “Environmental Footprint”

Environmental Footprint Calculator Screenshot

Environmental Footprint Calculator Screenshot

An environmental footprint calculator is a fun way to get a more holistic picture of the impact your life has on the world as a whole.  If you want to know roughly how much carbon dioxide your daily activities and your lifestyle are producing, then an online calculator can help you do that.

The goal of an environmental or carbon footprint calculator is not to make you feel guilty.  No, the goal is to reconnect us with the sources of our consumption.  The last few decades of tremendous development have completely separated us from the sources of the things we consume;  we don’t know where our food comes from in many cases and we certainly never visit the farms it’s grown on, for example.  It’s often said we live in a “global world” now which is a funny thing to say, but it means that our production and consumption has global, not just local impact anymore. Because the production and journey of our goods are now invisible to us in ways they were not in our parents’ time, we usually don’t realize the massive impact something as small as the coffee cup out of which I am drinking has had on the world.   I used to write environmental education lesson plans for K-12 students, and I remember designing a lesson titled “The Journey of Jeans” in which kids followed the trail that brings a pair of jeans to the shelf at their favorite clothing store.  They followed the raw materials through harvest, production, and transportation and by the time they were done, they had followed a trail that circled the globe, employed dozens of people, and produced more pollution than they do in a year.  The point is, the impact our lifestyles have are far more massive than most of us imagine and the calculator’s job is to help you understand that and the reasons behind it, and to be able to make improvements where possible.  Also, they’re just kind of fun! There are many different environmental calculators floating out there on the internet, and some are better than others.  None are perfect, because it’s an incredibly complex thing to estimate total environmental impact.  The numbers you provide the calculator are rough and the calculations it performs make sacrifices here or there.  But below are my two favorite ones, and my results 😉

Global Footprint Network

This is an incredible tool which takes into account more things than most other calculators do.  Build your avatar and watch as a mini-world is built around you according to your lifestyle.  At the end, the calculator will break down your land, water, and energy use for you and, coolest of all, tell you how many Earths would be needed if everyone on the planet lived like you.  But it doesn’t leave you low; GPN provides you with personalized ways you can reduce your impact.  And don’t feel too bad, because-SPOILER ALERT- no American can get their estimate to be 1 Earth or less by virtue of our standard of living.

My results: 3.6 Earths

The Nature Conservancy

This carbon footprint calculator (carbon only, unlike the last calculator), is great because it takes into account your state and your living habits, compares you to the US and the global averages, and gives you the opportunity to offset your carbon emissions for the year right there!

My results: 13 tons of CO2 a year. Though if I simply hadn’t flown to London and back this summer, it would have been 8.8! Looks like I’m doing well compared to most of my neighbors; but we could always do better. How about you? Tell us in comments how you scored and if you were surprised, and your thoughts on the results.

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