Frequently Asked Questions
I have energy efficient appliances, use CFL/LED light bulbs, and have programmed my thermostat. Shouldn’t my carbon footprint be lower?
This calculator is designed to be a tool that can be completed quickly and provide an informative experience. To achieve that, we have focused on three major components that contribute to your carbon footprint: where you live, your home energy use, and your transportation habits.
To provide your home energy use footprint, this calculator uses the building type and number of people in your household (which are used as indicators of your home’s size) and links that information to the average energy consumption rate and the electricity supply region that corresponds to your zip code. With just a few questions, we are able to provide your home energy footprint. It is important to note that this is an estimate and it is possible that your home energy footprint is lower thanks to the size and age of your home and the various energy-saving practices you might be employing.
I’m pretty certain my lifestyle is lower impact than my neighbors, but my results are higher than the local average - what’s up with that?
The “local” average you see is a combination of numbers. The home energy average is the most localized—it comes from sub-state data. The public transit comparison is based on data from your state, and the averages for flights and car travel are based on national data. Therefore, your immediate neighbors aren’t the best basis for comparison.
The tool is also sensitive to your choices. For example, if you use electricity to heat your home and most in your region use natural gas, you might see a significant difference between your footprint and the average. Another culprit could be your travel habits: it is possible that you fly or otherwise travel more than the average American.
I’ve read that the type of food we eat can have a large impact the environment. Why isn’t food included in this calculator?
The focus of the calculator is on direct emissions from individuals’ activities: namely, their consumption of electricity and their use of transportation. The calculator does not include upstream emissions from the production of goods and services, such as the manufacture of automobiles or the production of food.
That being said, we agree that the upstream impacts of our choices can be significant, but they are also very difficult to measure quickly in a quantitative and accurate way. If you’d like to learn more about the impacts of the entire food system and what can be done to reduce emissions, visit our Food Tips page.
Why shouldn’t I count my business travel in the transportation section?
The calculator is designed to assess the emissions of individuals in their personal lives rather than those related to their employment and workplace. We expect that your company is already covering the environmental impact of your work travel, since it is a factor of doing business. Many companies today include these impacts in their carbon footprints, and some even balance out their employee’s travel with carbon offsets. Therefore, it would be redundant to count business travel here as well.
I’ve heard the average American’s footprint is around 17 tons of CO2, but my result is much smaller than that. Am I really low impact compared to other Americans?
Maybe! But first it is important to know where this average comes from.
The commonly cited number of 17.2 tons comes from the EPA’s 2012 data, which are based on total US emissions of 5400 million metric tons. When this total is divided by a population of 312.8 million people, the per capita average is 17.2 metric tons. Because the total US emissions include activities that occur anywhere in the US regardless of the source, the per capita number includes the emissions associated with our overall economy, including fossil fuel development (mining and refining), production of goods and services, agriculture, etc. Our calculator, on the other hand, focuses on the direct emissions associated with individuals’ lives at home and on the go.
I’m having trouble understanding the implications of my footprint. Can I compare this number to anything?
Absolutely! Let’s say your carbon footprint is 15,000 lbs. of CO2 per year. That is equal to the amount of CO2 from 766 gallons of gasoline consumed, 16,200 miles/year driven by an average passenger vehicle, or 7,308 pounds of coal burned.
To use your own results to learn more about the implications of your footprint, you can try out the EPA’s carbon equivalency calculator.
I’d love to share this tool with people in my community. How can I do that?
On the results page, you can share the calculator with family and friends via email as well as social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Our calculator is specifically designed to be a centerpiece tool for employee education and engagement efforts on sustainability. Companies and organizations that partner with us can co-brand and embed the calculator on their websites and encourage employees to participate in challenges to save energy. Make an Impact can provide aggregated metrics such as participation rates, average carbon footprints, and pledges to avoid carbon emissions.
Companies interested in partnerships to use the carbon calculator as part of an employee engagement strategy should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.