The Carbon Footprint

The Carbon Footprint
The Carbon Footprint

‘Carbon footprint’ measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organization, event or product. 

The footprint considers all six of the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). 

A carbon footprint is measured in tones of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). The carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) allows the different greenhouse gases to be compared on a like-forlike basis relative to one unit of CO2. CO2e is calculated by multiplying the emissions of each of the six greenhouse gases by its 100 year global warming potential (GWP). 


The main types of carbon footprint for organizations are: 

A) Organizational Carbon Footprint

Emissions from all the activities across the organization, including buildings’ energy use, industrial processes and company vehicles.  

An organizational or business carbon footprint measures the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions arising from all of an organization’s activities. A good place to get an estimation of your business carbon footprint is our carbon footprint indicator. Read more about organizational carbon footprints below. 

  • Types of emissions  
  • Why calculate  
  • How to calculate - organizational carbon footprints  
  • How we can help  

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol* standard is commonly used to categorize an organization’s emissions into 3 groups or ‘scopes’: 

Scope 1 - Direct emissions 

Direct emissions resulting from activities within the organization’s control. Includes onsite fuel combustion, manufacturing and process emissions, refrigerant losses and company vehicles. 

Scope 2 - Indirect emissions: electricity and heat 

Indirect emissions from electricity, heat or steam purchased and used by the organization. 

Scope 3 - Indirect emissions: other 

Any other indirect emissions from sources not directly controlled by the organization. Examples include: employee business travel, outsourced transportation, waste disposal, water usage and employee commuting.  

Under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an organization must include scope 1 and 2 emissions within its carbon footprint. There is broad discretion about which scope 3 emissions should be included in a business carbon footprint - for example; organizations often include waste disposed to landfill and employee business travel from scope 3.  

If you have your energy usage details, use our carbon footprint calculator to calculate your organizational carbon footprint. 

* The Greenhouse Gas Protocol: A Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard, revised edition. World Business Council for Sustainable Development and World Resources Institute. 

Reasons for Calculating Carbon Footprint

The 2 main reasons for calculating an organizational carbon footprint are that it will help you to: 

Manage and reduce emissions 

Reducing your business carbon footprint often results in cost savings. Analyzing your organization’s carbon footprint will help you to identify and prioritize areas for potential reduction.  


More and more organizations want to be able to demonstrate their carbon footprint for reasons of:  

Mandatory reporting requirements  

Climate change legislation such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) or EU Emissions Trading Scheme require such reporting, for example.  

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) 

Showing that you are behaving in a responsible and ethical way is becoming ever more important  

Responding to requests 

Partners, customers and investors are increasingly interested in carbon emissions data. There are also carbon reporting initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project.  


The basic 6 steps required to calculate a carbon footprint for an organization are as follows: 

1. Establishment of the assessment boundaries: 

  • Organizational 
  • Operational 
  • Greenhouse gases 

2. Collection of data. 

3. Calculation of emissions using appropriate emissions factors 

4.Convert usage into CO2 equivalent 

5.Verifying the results (optional) 

6. Reporting the carbon footprint 

1. Method definition 

You need to have a consistent method to get accurate results – especially if you are going to rely on lots of different people to collect and interpret data. Good sources of standards include: 

  • Greenhouse Gas Protocol
    Free set of commonly used standards  
  • International Organization for Standardization, ISO 14064 Builds on many of the concepts introduced by the GHG Protocol  

2. Establishment of the assessment boundaries

You will need to define: 

  • Organizational boundaries 
    What parts of the organization are included? This can be complex for large organizations with many subsidiaries, joint ventures or leased assets.  
  • Operational boundaries 
    All scope 1 and scope 2 emissions should be included, but the organization can choose which scope 3 emissions to include.  

When choosing a boundary try to take account of how your organization works, other reporting periods, legislative requirements, and the practicalities of data collection.  

3. Collate data 

It is important to collect data as thoroughly and accurately as possible. The main sources of data are usually:  

  • Gas and electricity – meter readings or bills (kWh)  
  • Other fuels – usage in liters, kWh, MJ, liters  
  • Transport – usage by fuel type (if this is not possible estimate it based on the mileage of the vehicles and fuel economy assumptions)  

4. Convert usage into CO2 equivalent 

The carbon footprint is measured in tones CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). This is calculated by converting the data you have collected. You should always use conversions from credible sources, see our conversion factor tables. It is important that you identify any data gaps and list the assumptions you have made in calculating the footprint. 

5. Verifying the results (optional) 

To add credibility, it makes sense for a third party to verify your carbon footprint. The Carbon Trust Standard is one such company that can do this – as well as helping you to measure, reduce, and communicate your carbon footprint.  

6. Reporting the carbon footprint 

Make sure you carbon footprint is presented clearly and honestly. This means providing complete information about each of the steps above, including methods, footprint boundaries, data quality and assumptions. Also - try to keep a consistent approach over different years, explaining any changes in reporting or business structure that might impact the footprint. 

B) Product Carbon Footprint 

Emissions over the whole life of a product or service, from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing right through to its use and final reuse, recycling or disposal. 

A product carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of the product’s life. 

A product carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of the product’s life. This includes: 

  • Extraction, production and transportation of raw materials  
  • Manufacture or service provision  
  • Distribution  
  • End-use  
  • Disposal/recycling  

At each stage greenhouse gas emissions can result from such sources as: energy use, transportation fuel refrigerant losses from air conditioning units and waste. In the case of a “service product” the life-cycle stages are defined across the duration of the service.  

Measuring a product’s carbon footprint offers a number of benefits, including:

Attracting customers 

Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the goods and services they use. Working with the Carbon Trust Foot printing Companyor demonstrating a lower footprint than competitor products can deliver competitive advantage.  

Brand identity 

Reporting product carbon footprints shows that an organization takes its social responsibility seriously.  


Reporting your products’ carbon footprints will support your corporate responsibility programme and enhance your reputation.  

Cost savings 

Identifying areas where greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced often results in cost savings - in terms of transport energy, waste and packaging for example.  

Emissions savings 

Looking at the whole supply chain could help you identify savings.  

Steps to Calculate a Carbon Footprint for Product

The basic steps required to calculate a carbon footprint for a product are as follows: 

  1. Analyze the materials and supply chain processes. 
  2. Build a supply chain map for the product. 
  3. Define the assessment boundaries (including the selection of greenhouse gases and the emissions sources which will be included). 
  4. Data collection 
  5. Calculation of emissions using appropriate emissions factors. 

1. The primary footprint is a measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption and transportation (e.g. car and plane). We have direct control of these. 

2. The secondary footprint is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the whole lifecycle of products we use - those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown. To put it very simply – the more we buy the more emissions will be caused on our behalf.  

Product Carbon Footprints are commonly expressed either as ‘cradle to gate’ footprints, or ‘cradle to grave’ depending on the life-cycle stages included. 

Product Carbon Footprints
Product Carbon Footprints 

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