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You’re More Than Your Carbon Footprint


26 tons.


That’s how much CO2 I apparently produce in a given year according to a popular carbon footprint calculator. Compare that to the world average of 4 tons and it looks like I’m singlehandedly bringing about the end of the planet. If everyone lived like me, we would need nearly eight Earths to survive. I go through an annual allotment of carbon in about six weeks.


And you know what? I don’t care!


But John. How can you call yourself a sustainability professional, a defender of the planet, with a score so high and an attitude like that?!? You’re supposed to be championing a more sustainable future and serving as an example for others to follow.


That’s because my carbon footprint is just a very small piece of a much larger picture. The calculator accounts for variables like my use of transportation, if I live in an urban or rural area, and whether or not I’m a vegan. While all of these are important considerations, it leaves out a lot that might change my final score.


Take, for example, my time spent on airplanes (at least before the pandemic). More than anything else, my flying time sent my CO2 score through the roof. While I’d love to be able to work from Zoom all the time, my flights often brought me to factories in far-flung reaches of the developing world. In those factories, I have been able to execute programs bettering the lives of millions of people. Yet, that pesky calculator forgot to factor this part in.


We also can’t forget being sustainable involves so much more than just our impact on the environment. While you may never get on an airplane or eat a piece of meat, are the people making your jeans earning a living wage? How many children do you have? Do you smoke, drink, or do other drugs? Even on the environmental side these calculators are missing so much. How much food do you throw out in a single week? Did you spend all day on the computer or watching TV with the lights on? Do you work in a green office or for a socially responsible company? These all contribute just as much to whether or not you’re leaving the planet in a good state for the next generation.


So, for all these reasons and more, I’m here to tell you to take your carbon footprint score with a grain of salt. Their lack of nuance, and appearance as the gold standard of what makes someone a sustainable citizen, is a dangerous combination. You can certainly use them as a gauge, of course. But, let’s remember they’re not the be-all and end-all verdict of how good you are.


With all that said, why not do a fun experiment and find out your score at Footprint Calculator. When you’re done, let me know in the comments how it went.


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