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For a future where people and nature thrive.
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WWF-UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1081247) and in Scotland (SC039593) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales (4016725).
WWF’s Footprint Calculator: how did we work it all out?
We hope you like our carbon footprint calculator, which we created with the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York and the University of Leeds.
Once you’ve answered the questions in the quiz you’ll see the size of your carbon footprint, based on the information you’ve given us.
Here are the answers to some top questions. If you can’t find your question, please get in touch with us here.
Q: What do you mean by ‘carbon footprint'?
Your footprint is a way of showing your carbon emissions, compared to other people and other countries. It’s your impression on the planet.
By carbon emissions, we mean greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Humans produce these gases in vast quantities by doing things like burning coal, oil and gas for energy and cutting down forests. Your individual emissions are built up from the energy you use personally for electricity and travel, as well as the energy that’s required to produce your food and all the other stuff you buy, whether it’s made in the UK or elsewhere in the world.
We convert all the different greenhouse gases into an equivalent impact from carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Your footprint value is in “tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent”.
Q: What does my result mean?
Once you’ve answered the questions you’ll see a percentage score. 100% is the average for each UK citizen to meet the UK’s 2020 emissions reduction targets.
So if you see that you’re more than 100%, you know that you can do more to help hit the target.
If you’re under 100% – good job! Keep doing what you’re doing, and help others to do the same. But remember that emissions need to keep being cut now and over the coming decades – the UK aims to cut emissions by 80% in 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
Q: Am I seeing results for me as an individual, or for my whole household?
The final result is an individual footprint, although household information is used to calculate home energy impacts. The impact of heating and powering the home is divided by the number of adult residents.
Q: What do the different sections cover?
The calculator is divided into four sets of questions:
- ‘Food’ covers diet, food waste and buying habits.
- ‘Home’ covers energy type and usage in the house and the presence of energy-saving measures.
- ‘Travel’ covers personal and public transport usage for leisure and work, and flights.
- ‘Stuff’ covers the purchases of consumable items.
Q: Why is there a government section in my personal footprint?
Though the calculator gives you an individual footprint score, it also depends on the country you live in and the policies of your government.
The UK’s carbon footprint includes the government’s consumption – that covers spend on roads and construction, education, defence, health and other expenses involved in running the country. This impact is shared by the 64 million residents of the UK.
Q: What is the UK government’s ‘2020 target’?
The Climate Change Act established a target for the UK to reduce its emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. To help us get there, there are targets along the way, and we need to be 35% of the way there by 2020. You can find out more here: https://www.theccc.org.uk/tackling-climate-change/reducing-carbon-emissions/carbon-budgets-and-targets/
Q: I live a very green lifestyle. Why is my footprint bigger than I expected?
Part of your footprint depends on the policies of the UK government. So for example, if you drive an electric car your footprint may be bigger than you think it should be. This is because the UK’s electricity is not as green as that of some other countries.
In the future when more of the UK’s electricity is generated by solar or wind power, and less from coal, the impact will reduce.
Q: The calculator doesn’t give an option that reflects my personal situation. How can I answer the questions?
You may not be able to find a match for your personal situation in the questions – for example, one awesome individual told us that they live in a tent! We have tried to make the calculator as user-friendly as possible, which has meant simplifying some of the questions.
If you do live in a tent, or if your situation is otherwise unusual, please try to make a ‘best guess’ with the answers provided. You can also give us your feedback here.
Q: Should I include my work travel?
You should include the travel involved in your regular commute to work. However, any travel you do as part of your job – making deliveries, travelling to different offices or conferences – is part of your employer’s footprint, so you don’t need to include it.
Q: What footprint result should I be aiming for?
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to keep global warming well below 2C – preferably 1.5C. If everyone on the planet were allocated a ‘fair share’ of carbon emissions, each person should have a footprint of 1.05 tonnes by the year 2050.
This is significantly less than the average current UK footprint, but this should not discourage you. Do all you can to reduce your own footprint, and with your help we’ll continue to fight for action from businesses and governments.
Q: If I have to fly, should I offset my carbon emissions?
Flying is the single most climate-polluting activity an ordinary person can do: even a single flight can dramatically increase your carbon footprint. Unless we see some major technological breakthroughs, people will ultimately have to fly less to reduce carbon emissions.
One of the best things you can do to keep your carbon footprint under control is to avoid flying. Could you get there by train or by ferry? Would that conference work over the phone?
However, we know it’s not always possible to avoid flying. In that case, you can ‘offset’ your flights, meaning that carbon dioxide emissions are balanced with reductions from energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Be sure to use The Gold Standard, which is the best way to make sure your offsetting supports sustainable development.
Your offset flights won’t contribute to your personal carbon footprint. Still, it’s important that we continue to reduce the number of flights we take and offset only as a last resort.
Q: Where’s the data from, and how reliable is it?
To calculate the UK’s consumption-based account (footprint) we used data from the Office for National Statistics, which undergoes regular assurance reviews. We supplemented this with data from the Eora MRIO database, which has undergone reliability testing.
We also used the Eora database to find the energy and emissions figures for the rest of the world. We took care to ensure that this was consistent with UK data.
Defra, Shrink That Footprint and the Energy Savings Trust provided additional data on home, travel and diet-related emissions.
The calculator has been examined by Professors Thomas Wiedmann and John Barrett, who are world leaders in the field of accounting for consumption-based emissions.
Q: How did you work out the comparisons?
In your calculator results you’ll see how your footprint compares with others in the world. You are marked up against a UK average of 13.56 tonnes and a world average of 5.28 tonnes.
Long haul flights:
Based on conversion factors from Defra, we worked out that 1 return flight of 11,000km would equate to 2.47 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and compared it to the tonnes of carbon dioxide in your footprint.
An average car in the UK travels 12,000km in a year, producing 2.33 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Again, this is used as a metaphor to give you an idea of what your footprint result means.
Q: Your previous footprint calculator showed how many planets I was using. Why has this changed?
Previously we have used an ecological footprint to show our impact on the planet, which measures the amount of land needed for the things we consume and some of the waste we produce. It then calculates how many planets that land adds up to. This is a good way of visually showing a rough idea of our impact, but it becomes difficult when calculating how changes we make will reduce our impact. The new carbon footprint calculator is a more accurate measure.
All images in the footprint calculator are © WWF or used with permission.