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huella de carbono

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.

huella de carbono - carbon footprint

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.

tronco arbol

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.

energias limpias - clean energies

Clean energies and how to make a good use of them

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only transforms… but, in the process, sometimes “stains”. This could be a version of the famous saying about energy adapted to our times, in which the environmental impact of power generation is a major problem. Clean energies could come to solve this problem, with certain factors to consider.

Alternative energies to fossil fuels are, undoubtedly, the only ones that can currently curb environmental degradation that is already having serious consequences for humanity. However, it is a complex process.

Achieving sustainable development and improving future prospects requires a change in production models, as well as assuming and promoting a circular economy model. And when it comes to energy, we become much, much more efficient. This happens by giving an adequate use to each type of energy.

energias limpias

What are clean energies?

Clean energies are considered to be those that do not generate waste when they are obtained. It is clear, for example, that electricity is the same regardless of whether it comes from a solar panel or coal. However, the environmental impact of this energy does vary according to its source of origin. Therefore, there is some debate around the concept of clean energy.

Can clean energy and renewable energy be used synonymously? Although, strictly speaking, renewable energies are those from virtually inexhaustible natural sources or that are regenerated without human intervention, we could consider that both concepts are comparable. However, in some cases we can speak of polluting renewable energy sources and non-renewable clean energy sources.

On the other hand, the manufacture and installation of the equipment may have a certain ecological footprint, but the impact is much less than in the case of other more polluting energies. In this sense, it is important to be aware that any process of obtaining energy has some kind of impact.

Types of renewable energies

There are many types of renewable energy. In fact, there are several ways to classify them. In this article we will proceed to its classification based on the source of origin, specifying the different subtypes:

  • Solar energies: they come from solar radiation. They serve both to generate electrical energy and heat energy (in this case it is called “solar thermal”) by different means, mainly photovoltaic cells and solar collectors.
  • Wind energy: comes from the wind’s ability to generate mechanical energy, transformed into electrical energy using wind turbines (turbines). It is very cheap and clean, although it suffers from irregularity and landscape impact.
  • Hydraulic energy: derived from water currents and reservoirs, it is very similar to wind power both in the operating mechanism and in the advantages and disadvantages it presents.

energia eolica - wind energy

  • Maritime energies: it could be grouped with the previous one, but these energies only occur in the sea. The tidal (generated by tides) and the wave (generated by waves) are the best known, but there are others (tidal wave, osmotic power …).
  • Geothermal: it takes advantage of the internal heat of the Earth to generate thermal energy or, indirectly, electrical energy. However, from there the casuistry extends, depending on the type of deposit and its uses.
  • Other energies: this category would include relatively clean energies, that is, they have a small carbon footprint or are clean, but can generate other wastes. It would be the case of biomass, aero thermal or nuclear.

Possible optimal uses of renewable energies

Each way of obtaining energy has its peculiarities and ideal uses. Therefore, it is essential to know which energy to choose for each use case, assuming that the impact is not always the same, and without forgetting that it is usually necessary to combine different energies.

A clear example is the use made of the sun to generate thermal energy. Passive solar energy has been used for millennia, and is now being optimized in heating processes (and other processes such as obtaining salt by drying). Minimal transformation and impact are its main advantages; however, there is also a problem: it is usually not enough.

In this context, four areas are usually identified in which clean energies have demonstrated their efficiency and still have a lot of room for improvement, both through technology and others (scale, optimization of uses and processes):

  • Heat generation: heat energy is a strong point, especially for solar thermal energy. The impact in the areas of building heating (and also cooling) and the production of domestic hot water is not trivial, not to mention numerous industrial processes.
  • Electricity generation: the production of energy receives a large contribution from renewable energies (around 28% in 2020). Photovoltaics are the one that grows the most and, together with wind power, the prospects are for improvement. On the other hand, biomass is still widely used.
  • Transportation: from fuels such as bioethanol or cellulosic biomass to magnetic systems such as maglev, through electric vehicles (including solar vehicles), the energy transition in this area is one of the most necessary and promising.
  • Independent energy systems: relating to autonomous or off the grid systems, regardless of scale, cleanly generated energy is not only the most efficient solution, but is practically a necessity (in addition to a growing market).

From LCBA Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia we support the development of new low-carbon technologies from multiple key sectors that are synergistic with each other, such as clean and renewable energies, as well as energy efficiency. If you are a European provider of this type of technology or a local company from one of the countries in which we operate (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia) with a project related to the circular and low carbon economy, request your participation, and you will be able to benefit from numerous advantages. You can do it from: www.latam.lowcarbonbusinessaction.com