Environment: treading lightly on the Earth
Environment: treading lightly on the Earth

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3.1 Calculating your carbon footprint

How big is your carbon footprint? And what are the main contributors to your carbon footprint? You will now use the OU carbon calculator to work out an approximation of your individual footprint and identify your actions which contribute to it.

Activity 7 Your carbon footprint

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

a. Following the steps below, use the OU carbon calculator to work out your individual carbon footprint.

  • Click on the ‘View interactive version’ link below to open the carbon calculator
OU carbon calculator
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  • Select ‘Next’ on the Welcome screen to start.
  • Answer the questions on the calculator’s tabs from ‘Your Household’ to ‘Goods’ for your existing situation. You’ll find that some questions are fairly general and don’t exactly fit your personal situation and there are options that require estimates (or even ‘guestimates’). So you’ll have to choose answers or values that fit your situation as closely as possible.
  • Note that some questions refer to the whole household and some to you personally. If the question asks what do ‘you’ do (e.g. How many minutes do you spend in the shower?) it generally means you personally, unless it’s clear that all household members are involved (e.g. What main fuel do you use to heat your hot water?).
  • Additional guidance and FAQs can be found here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

As you answer the questions, the changes to your footprint will be shown on the ‘You’ bar chart and on the Summary screen, together with the UK Average individual footprint for comparison.

  • When you are satisfied that you have the best estimate of your existing footprint; go to the Summary tab. Then name (e.g. ExistingFootprint1) and save a record of your footprint. You can make changes to your answers as many times as you like until you are satisfied you have the best estimate of your footprint.

Figure 12 below shows the OU carbon calculator ‘Summary’ footprint screen, with an example existing carbon footprint from a hypothetical student (in the left-hand column of the table and the left-hand bar chart) and the UK average (mean) carbon footprint (in the right-hand column of the table and the right-hand bar chart).

Described image
Figure 12 An example of the OU carbon calculator ‘Summary’ footprint screen. The student’s existing footprint is 14.89 tonnes CO2e per year; this is greater than the UK national average of 14.60 tonnes CO2e per person per year.

b. The carbon calculator is a simplified computer model of the real world. Why is such a model useful, and what is the implication of it being based on the consumption perspective for measuring carbon footprints?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The carbon calculator is a useful model because it allows individuals to calculate their carbon footprint and explore options for changing it.

Being a consumption-based model, the calculator assumes that individual and household consumption is ultimately responsible for triggering most GHG emissions, so decisions by individuals could significantly reduce the nation’s footprint.

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