The Truth About Carbon Footprints // Who Invented Carbon Footprinting?

I am excited to talk about carbon footprints in a way I don’t see talked about enough in that it is really just greenwashing and ways to put blame on the consumer. If you’re ready to spill some tea, then keep on reading.

I was inspired to write about this after I calculated my own carbon footprint using four different tools and the results were wildly different across the board. Some said I produce 1 ton and others said I produced 5 tons even though I inserted the same values into all the tools. So, it got me thinking, who created the term carbon footprint, what was its original meaning, and how did it become a way to blame consumers today? Let’s go!

History of Carbon Footprints

It started really as “ecological footprint” a term coined by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel. According to Britannica, an ecological footprint is “the total area of land required to sustain an activity or population and includes environmental impacts like water use, food production, and so forth.” This term was coined in the early 90s.

It varies from the now-popular term, carbon footprint is that a carbon footprint is based on the amount of CO2 emissions associated with all the activities of a single person, business, or country. This includes direct emissions like those from fossil fuels, heating, transportation, as well as goods and services used.

Where did the change happen?

Companies have known they were the problem for decades. So, starting as early as ads could run on TV, they began making ads trying to make us, the consumers, feel guilty about what we consume. While, yes, we need to be mindful of what we consume and how much, but it’s ridiculous to point fingers at me for causing climate change by driving vs biking, and companies out there are dumping oil and plastic into the ocean (among other things).

It wasn’t until 2000 that BP, British Petroleum, hosted a campaign trying to convince consumers that we are the problem, not Big Oil. This is when BP coined the term carbon footprint. That’s right, an oil company. In 2004, BP even launched its own carbon footprint calculator to show consumers how wasteful or not wasteful they are. Now, the term is everywhere and it is largely still used to guilt-trip consumers for traveling, driving, and so forth.

Don’t get me wrong, we can still make big impacts as individuals, but big corporations that are one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions telling consumers that we are to blame? No thanks.

But...I don’t hate carbon footprinting tools

Yes, I hate the origins and I hate that companies like BP are still trying to put the blame on the consumers today. It’s all bad, but these tools are still useful. I think, though they aren’t perfect, they are still useful and here’s why:

I learned so much about my own impact. Like I’ve said time and time again, companies are mostly to blame, but they run off of supply and demand. So, reducing our consumption of these companies does make a huge difference. I learned that I fly a lot, well I already knew that, but I learned that that was my biggest contributor to my personal CO2 emissions.

For others, they might learn that driving or electricity or their diet is the biggest contributor. Now, no one is going to be perfect but this can be a good starting point for some who are trying to reduce their impact on the planet. It’s hard to jump into zero waste living with no direction. But, with the help of these tools, we have some direction.

I’m not saying they are great, but they can be useful. I think corporations using them to blame us is wrong. But, using them for our own knowledge can be powerful.

What should we do moving forward?

I say, continue to use the tools, but use one from the World Wildlife Fund or another organization that is not BP or another polluter. Don’t contribute to their schemes. I think we can also put pressure on them as consumers. Here’s this tweet from BP encouraging others to use their tool to reduce their carbon footprint. One guy wasn’t having it so he called them out. Let’s call out companies that are trying to blame the consumers.

But, we also need to do our part. I am a strong believer in blaming the companies but still making individual changes and actions. Yes, BP and Coca-Cola and XYZ companies are to blame mostly, but as I’ve already said, we drive their supply and demand. We still need to reduce our consumption because overconsumption of anything is bad.

Our small changes truly do have a big impact in the long run especially when multiplied. While it’s great for me to go vegan or quit flying or ride my bike vs drive, wouldn’t it be better if I encouraged others to do the same? My personal carbon footprint is small in comparison to companies and the cumulative carbon footprints of everyone in the world. My actions honestly do seem meaningless on their own but that is why I am here to encourage you all to do the same.

Don’t strive for perfection, but make one small change today and encourage someone else in your life to do the same. Reducing our own emissions is a great thing we can do while also boycotting these brands and calling out their BS.

Thank you so much for reading along, I hope you learned a lot from this and found it inspirational. One way that you can educate others is by sharing this post with them! You don’t have to actually do the educating, but sharing articles you find helpful can be a tool for them.

I appreciate your time and support. Until next time, I truly mean it, remember that our small changes have a big impact in the long run.

Emma :)

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Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! 

My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...


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