What Is the Average Carbon Footprint?

Murrye Bernard
Carbon footprint

While you may have heard of the term "carbon footprint," you may wonder what is the average carbon footprint and how yours measures up.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

"Carbon footprint" is defined as the measure of greenhouse gases that one is responsible for creating, or units of carbon dioxide that are produced in tons per year. These gases are generated by various activities including transportation, home energy costs, diet, recycling practices and waste production.

How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

You don't have to learn a complicated mathematical formula to determine your carbon footprint. Fortunately, there are many calculators available online, such as The Nature Conservancy's carbon footprint calculator. To determine your footprint, enter details concerning your home energy use, how often and how far you drive and/or fly, what your diet is like, and whether you participate in a recycling program and how much waste you generate.You may calculate your footprint individually or based on your household.

Average Carbon Footprint Figures

Now that you know your carbon footprint, you can compare it to the average. According to The Encyclopedia of the Earth, "the average North American generates about 20 tons of CO2-eq each year." Alarmingly, the global average carbon footprint is only "about 4 tons of CO2-eq per year."

Many Americans live in large homes-often well over 2,000 square feet-and drive gas-guzzling vehicles such as SUVs. Those who live in the suburbs face a long commute which requires lots of gas. Many people shop at large chain stores and purchase food that was transported thousands of miles across the country, wasting more precious fuel, and then they carry these items home in 10 different plastic bags. Each of these actions has a negative impact on the environment.

On the other hand, someone who lives in an urban environment takes up less physical space and is more likely to walk or use public transportation to go to work, shop or run other errands. Smaller apartments in multi-family dwellings more efficiently use energy. Local markets are plentiful so residents can buy fresh produce that was grown within 50 miles of where they live.

Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Whether your carbon footprint is above or below the average, there are plenty of ways that you can reduce it and increase the quality of our environment. You don't have to completely change your lifestyle, but you can make subtle tweaks to do your part and live a "greener" lifestyle. See How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint for a few ideas you can implement.

What Is the Average Carbon Footprint?