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The carbon footprint: what is it, why and how to reduce it?

Sustainable development has become a great challenge for humanity in recent years. However, the footprint that we are leaving on the next generations is not to be proud of. The launching of projects like LCBA is proof that we are heading towards a sustainable transition towards a low carbon economy and that we still have time to achieve sustainable development.

Carbon footprint is a very popular concept lately, but not everyone understands what it is. In this sense, it may at first seem obvious what the meaning of the carbon footprint concept is. However, this is not the case, since it is not yet clear, for example, how to measure the impact and what part corresponds to each of the actors who are part of society (companies, civil society, etc.).

Therefore, it is important to understand the concept of a carbon footprint, why reducing it is an urgent necessity and no longer an option. It is also relevant to know what are the mechanisms that exist today to reduce it. In this text we are going to try to give an explanation to these frequent doubts.

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The concept: what is the carbon footprint?

The consumption of products and services is the engine of production, and every production process involves the emission of greenhouse gases (except those that exclusively use clean energy). We can affirm that any human activity has an impact and leaves its mark.

If we want to define the carbon footprint more precisely, it is an environmental indicator that measures the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by an individual, an organization, a product, an event, or a specific activity. The carbon footprint is measured in the unit known as “CO2 equivalent”, which results from considering the molecular weight of carbon dioxide, converting other gases to their equivalent value according to their global warming potential and “adding” (or subtracting).

The way to measure the carbon footprint is still in the process of elaboration and fixation. In fact, today there are different standards, measurement methods (such as life cycle analysis) and certifications. There are also variations depending on whether we focus on organizations, people, products, industries or territories, and how each of them are defined. In short, there is still a long way to go to fine-tune the calculations on the carbon footprint.

The effects: why should the carbon footprint be reduced?

It is indisputable that the environmental impact of our activities is a reality and has a cost, both for the environment and for the health and well-being of people. However, it is also clear that the carbon footprint is not just an environmental issue.

This impact also has repercussions on economic profitability. In fact, this has been the dominant perspective for a decade. Although in the short term (especially in some sectors) it may be more profitable not to bet on decarbonization, in the medium and long-term managing and reducing the carbon footprint implies a structural recession, if not a collapse (check OECD models).

A non-circular economy model is simply not sustainable. Therefore, this process of necessary change can also be understood as an opportunity to orient business models towards neutral or low carbon emissions, as indicated by the World Economic Forum, occupying the leading positions in this movement.

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The practice: how to reduce our carbon footprint?

First, we have to consider whether the reduction of the carbon footprint refers to individuals or organizations. In this article, we will focus on organizations, as they have a high impact in terms of economic activity.

To measure the footprint systematically, it is necessary to register in one of the official registers created by the authorities for this purpose. In the case of Spain, for example, companies should be part of the Carbon Footprint Registry. And so with each respective country in question.

In these registers are the tools necessary to carry out an inventory of a company’s emissions in a specific time (established in a base year), determine its scope (there is a scale of three emissions depending on whether they are direct, indirect by energy or other indirect) and also account for the removal of CO2, that is, the absorption that our business activity could carry out.

From this moment on, compensation measures can be evaluated on an objective basis, that is, all investments in projects that lead to the reduction of emissions. These projects include reforestation, clean energy generation, or waste management.

Lastly, let’s tackle the process of reducing the carbon footprint. At this point, it is worth mentioning investment projects. These projects are based on technological innovation and modification of the organization’s production processes and their objective is to achieve less generation of waste and polluting emissions. The application of efficient practices, the recycling of materials or the use of low carbon fuels are some examples.

We want to look back and be proud of our footprints

In today’s challenging environment, it is everyone’s responsibility to find solutions. Therefore, we must bet on new technological avenues, strategic alliances and, above all, a new awareness of our environment, our society and our way of life.

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