Hi! I am Marco, the resident calculation expert at Reflora.
So who is a calculation expert really? Like you (I hope), I am a normal person very interested in the future of our world, in particular the path of climate change.
This interest meant that after my degree in marine biology and biotechnology, I decided to do my master’s degree in environmental technologies.
Until 2018 my knowledge of carbon footprint and (Greenhouse Gas) GHG emissions was vague.
I mean, I clearly knew that we were causing climate change on Earth and that it was necessary to do more than just recycle, but I had no idea exactly what.
During my master’s degree I realized that the biggest challenge was precisely in the GHG emissions to the atmosphere and that to combat climate change it is imperative to reduce and offset these emissions.
With this in mind, in my master’s thesis I decided to develop a GHG emissions calculator to help companies measure, monitor, reduce and offset their carbon footprint.
Then I met Reflora, and here, every day I immerse myself in the world of emissions and try to increase my knowledge in this area.
Of course, things can get pretty technical through the day, hence part of my job is to hold K&E (Knowledge & Education) sessions with my colleagues, so we can learn and grow towards effective climate change solutions together.
In this blog, I am hoping to present the base concepts of Carbon footprint and greenhouse gases without getting too technical.
So, that being said, It is no secret that the impact of human activities on the Earth’s climate and temperature is increasing due to the increase in human caused emissions of greenhouse gases that originate mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and livestock (EU).
These gases exist naturally in the atmosphere, but anthropogenic emissions are increasing their concentrations and are acting like the walls of a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and preventing it from escaping into space. (hence the term, greenhouse effect) (EU).
Measuring, reducing and offsetting GHG emissions and achieving sustainable economic development is the ultimate answer to climate change.
Carbon Footprint is a trendy topic these days, but contrary to popular belief, it is already an ‘adult term’ since it was coined only a year after Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ was released.
Well, the technical definition: The Carbon Footprint concept is defined as the total amount of GHG emitted into the atmosphere directly and indirectly through an activity or accumulated over the life of a product including the activities of individuals, populations, governments, companies, organizations, processes and industrial sectors. The most common form of accounting is in CO2 equivalent mass units (CO2e).
But I promised I won’t make this technical.
So, very simply, everything has its carbon footprint, even your favourite Instagram accounts such as https://www.instagram.com/reflorainitiative/ (but we offset that, so rest assured).
GHG emissions are mainly responsible for global warming that has occurred in an “accelerated” way since the mid-twentieth century, heating up our atmosphere, and the oceans. (IPCC).
GHGs can be of natural or anthropogenic (human made) and the biggest challenge is the steep increase in anthropogenic emissions since the pre-industrial era because of economic and population growth, reaching very high values in terms of atmospheric concentrations of various GHGs.
This is where things get a little difficult to explain simply. But, let’s assume that CO2 is your least favourite food. Mine is all things Nata (sorry, motherland). So, every time I try something new, and I don’t like it, I compare it to Pastel de Nata (Cream tarts). How much worse is it than that?
GHG emissions kind of work like that as well. CO2e (Carbon dioxide equivalent), becomes the common unit. The ‘Global Warming Potential’ comparison is measured over a period of 100 years (GWP100). These tools allow comparing different kinds of GHGs to CO2
Or, if you think in cream tart terms
Taste-less snacks aside, each gas has its own GWP100 and, it can vary a lot. Basically, emitting 1kg of CH4 is as bad as emitting 28kg of CO2 and 1kg of SF6 is as bad as 23500kgs of CO2, that is, 1kg of CH4 and SF6 is equivalent to 28kg and 23500kgs of CO2 (CO2e), respectively.
Let’s break it down
Carbon Dioxide – CO2
Carbon Dioxide has a GWP100 of 1 and is the gas emitted in the largest quantity, representing about 72% of total global emissions. The main sectors responsible for the emission of this gas are energy production (electricity and heat), transport and manufacturing and construction.
Methane – CH4
Methane has a GWP100 of 28 and represents about 19% of total global emissions. The main sources of emissions are agriculture and livestock, followed by fugitive emissions and waste treatment.
Nitrous Oxide – N2O
Nitrous Oxide has a GWP100 of 265 and of the three main GHG it is the one that contributes the least to emissions, representing about 6% of the total. The main responsible for the emission of this gas is agriculture, but it is also emitted to the atmosphere, for example, through the burning of fossil fuels and in industrial processes.
Fluorinated Gases is a group of numerous GHG gases from which Hydrofluorocarbons and Perfluorocarbons stand out. These gases are the GHG of lesser relevance since all together they only represent 3% of total emissions, however, they are the ones with the highest GWP100, reaching 23500, as is the case with SF6. These gases are emitted into the atmosphere through industrial processes and fugitive emissions.
So, what can we do about this?
Well, for starters, this information can help you make wiser consumption choices. The second thing you can do is calculate your own carbon footprint (try this one: https://www.reflorainitiative.com/ , it’s free and built by yours truly after years of research)
Once you have done that, you can challenge yourself to reduce your emissions, and for those leftover, you can offset using certified carbon credits (I pick forests- easy to monitor, transparent, safe)
But Marco, I am not a giant multinational, can you stop them first please?
Ah reader, I wish I could. Unfortunately, for now, calculation of the Carbon Footprint is voluntary for most sectors of captivity. However, it is expected that, in the near future, it will become mandatory to limit, monitor and control your CO2e emissions. The general hope is that this would allow the implementation of more specific measures to reduce it, to reverse the trend of increase in the World Carbon Footprint.
And the good news is that Environmental Conscience is at an all time high globally. With measures like the Paris Agreement, and consumers demanding sustainable alternatives, times are changing, my friend. Companies are becoming proactive towards carbon neutrality and that’s a better sign than any.
Ultimately, the onus lies on all of us; as consumers, business professionals and as part of the human race.
Like Rumi said “You are not a drop in the ocean, but the entire ocean in a drop”.
Let’s do our best, yes?