What is a Carbon Footprint?

Rachel Ashley
April 21, 2020

It’s up to no good, it’s invisible, and it follows you around in everything you do. No, it’s not your shadow. It’s your carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from a person’s activities during a given period of time, measured in “carbon dioxide equivalent. And nope, we’re not talking about farts. We’re talking about the fact that the everything we consume - from our food to the energy in our homes - requires energy to produce, transport, use, and get rid of. 

We all have carbon footprint, and chances are, it’s pretty big. After all, consumer demand for products and services drives 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions

In the US, the average person emits 20 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in a year. That’s about 120 lbs of emissions per person per day. To visualize how much space 120 lbs of CO2e takes up, that’s like filling more than a whole shipping container full of carbon dioxide every day.

Different people have differently-sized footprints. All footprints were not created equal. A pescetarian will have a lower footprint than a person who eats red meat. Someone who flies for work will have a higher footprint than someone who only flies for leisure. People who buy less stuff have lower footprints (and maybe, more money). 

In the UK, the average person has a footprint half the size of someone in the US. That’s because the grid in the UK is cleaner, people have smaller homes, drive shorter distances in less-polluting vehicles, etc.

Our footprints can also vary dramatically over time. My weekend footprint is much higher than my weekday footprint, for instance, since I walk to work and usually dine out and shop on weekends. My summer footprint might be higher than my winter footprint, since I will have to run my AC more than my heating. 

The good news is that your carbon footprint isn’t static: you can change it. The first step towards living lighter is understanding the composition of your carbon footprint.

You can think of your carbon footprint as made up of four categories: home, travel, food & drink, and shopping & leisure. 


Travel includes everything from your commute to work to the flights you booked for a last minute weekend getaway. Air travel is far and away the most carbon intensive mode of transportation, because planes burn a lot of fuel. Amongst Joro users, people with the highest carbon footprints overall tended to spend more on travel and flights.


Home captures the electricity you use to power lights, heating, and appliances. Your footprint will take into account what kinds of energy you use, how much, and when. Check out our list of simple actions to improve your home energy footprint.


Shopping and leisure includes everything from clothes, to movies, to fitness classes. The fashion industry has a higher carbon footprint than the global aviation industry. A fast fashion t-shirt from Zara or H&M requires about 3x as much energy - and has 3x the carbon footprint - of a hamburger.


Food and drink includes things like groceries, restaurant bills, or coffee. The food we eat requires energy to grow, transport, package, and dispose of. Same with those coffee beans or the alcohol you drank. Just like calories are a store of the energy in a food or beverage, CO2e is a representation of the energy required to produce it.


Curious about your carbon footprint? Download Joro to see the composition of your carbon footprint and receive a personalized path toward lighter living. Each small step we take for the planet adds up to big impact.

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

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