What is the carbon footprint of (insert product name here)?

This is a question I never liked, because I didn’t know the answer. I still don’t know the answer. That’s because when it comes to carbon footprint, there is no universal definition on WHAT is being measured and HOW it must be measured.
And when I’m asked for the carbon footprint, am I supposed to explain:

1) The carbon footprint for one product life cycle phase (ie. product use)?
2) All carbon or only emissions from energy use of fossil fuels?
3) The total amount of carbon & greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of the product?
With all of the variables that go into the entire life cycle of a product/service it is nearly impossible to provide an accurate number— from the sourcing of raw materials, the manufacturing of those materials, the manufacturing of the product, product use, product end-of-life disposition, and ALL of the transportation and packaging that occurs during every phase. Over time, materials may be sourced from different locations and manufacturing processes change, making the equation even more challenging. For the reasons I just stated, there is no consistent methodology for reporting a carbon footprint.
My recommendation is to not be so concerned about the numbers, but to put efforts in place to reduce your environmental footprint by being more energy efficient, reducing waste, and recycling. That’s where the real magic (and change) happens.
– Lindsay Lamb

Related Posts


  1. Brian Coats December 16, 2009 -

    Good point.
    What is the carbon footprint of creating this blog? And should it include the ongoing footprint to keep the blog up and running?
    What is the carbon footprint of measuring a carbon footprint? It reminds me of what ‘Fat Bastard’ (from Austin Powers) says, “It’s a vicious cycle.”

  2. Noel Ward December 16, 2009 -

    While I’m pretty much an environmentalist, the carbon footprint concept strikes me as a way to lay a guilt trip on people. They are biased and often misleading. For instance, we live in a moderate-size house, have 4-cylinder cars and don’t commute to work. We supplement oil heat with wood. But because I fly 65K miles a year my carbon footprint is worse than if we lived in a house twice the size, had 4 Hummers in the driveway and ran motorboats and ATVs all summer and snowmobiles all winter. Oh yeah, downhill skiing also makes me a bad guy.

    We need a different energy index that encourages better energy use. For instance, one of the reasons Prius drivers get good mileage is because the energy consumption screen in the car shows the effect their driving habits have on fuel consumption. So they learn to drive in ways that use less fuel. To get people to develop more energy efficient lifestyles, there needs to be the equivalent information on more of the things we use every day. People will work to get rewards they can see.

  3. Amanda Keogh December 17, 2009 -

    I know that the complexity of life cycle analysis is a deterrent and that supporting can be hard to find, but we have to start somewhere. I am really encouraged by customers requesting this information – they are forcing change up the supply chain. We need total transparency and confidence around carbon footprint data so that the truly low-carbon product can be recognised and rewarded by market forces. That will only happen if the customer keeps pushing vendors to provide more and better data. Keep the challenges coming through the supply chain I say!

  4. Craig December 30, 2009 -

    Just tell them it’s less than Al Gore’s carbon footprint!

    This is just as big of a scam as the FSC “Certification”, OK maybe not quite as big but right up there. Let’s see… if my carbon footprint is too big, I’ll just go to the “Carbon Store” and BUY Carbon CREDITS!!!!! Give me a break, like that makes things all better.

    It’s all sunshine and lollipops for the environmentalist though.

Comments are closed.