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What Exactly is a Carbon Footprint?

written by: JenniferB•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 8/28/2009

You’ve probably been hearing an awfully lot about carbon footprints lately. From Al Gore to Wal-Mart, everyone seems to be on the lookout for ways to reduce it. But what exactly is a carbon footprint? Find out here!

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    How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

    You’ve probably been hearing an awfully lot about carbon footprints lately. From Al Gore to Wal-Mart, everyone seems to be on the lookout for ways to reduce it. But what exactly is a carbon footprint? Well, unless you’ve had a course or two in environmental or atmospheric science, chances are the definition of a carbon footprint may be a little cloudy.

    In simple terms, a carbon footprint is a measurement of how the daily actions – including things like eating, transportation, hobbies and more, of an individual or group of individuals has on the environment. It is most often expressed in terms of the total tons of carbon emitted, usually on an annual basis, by that person or group of persons. Generally speaking, someone who drives a great deal in a large SUV, eats a high volume of heavily processed convenience foods while also consuming a high number of other non-necessities will have a much higher carbon footprint than someone who commutes via bicycle, eats local and organic foods, wears second hand clothing and avoids consuming items that they do not need. Considering your carbon footprint really comes down to thinking carefully about every individual action in your day and tracing the amount of energy from fossil fuels that it required from its source. An organic apple that you might purchase in the produce department required the use of far less fossil fuels than the pre-sliced and extensively packaged apple that can be found in the deli. (Yes such apples do exist!).

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    Simple Strategy to Get Started

    Considering your day-to-day activities and the products you buy and consume is a great first step toward lowering your carbon footprint. Make a list of all the food you ate, the items you purchased and the car trips you made yesterday. Then list the eco-friendly alternatives you might be able to replace them with next time. You can even take it further by examining the items in your house and making a similar list. Is your showerhead low-flow? Are you using energy-efficient light bulbs? Is your family in the habit of keeping lights on?

    Reducing the carbon footprint of you and your family is a surprisingly fun challenge! Set some goals and see if you can make some sustainable changes in your lives. Chances are, these changes will not only lead to less carbon in our atmosphere, but also make your lifestyle far healthier.

    For a quick and easy calculation for carbon footprint, check out this great carbon footprint calculator.