How To Calculate and Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Ireland is the third-largest producer of carbon emissions in Europe and the highest per capita. How do your actions contribute to this? What is your carbon footprint? Learn how to calculate, reduce and offset your carbon footprint with our complete guide.
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What Is a Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint can be defined as the number of greenhouse gases produced by human-led activities, either directly or indirectly. This amount is then expressed in terms of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced.
Here are some examples of an activity which directly produces CO2:
- Heating with Gas
Heat your home with gas, the gas is combusted and generates a certain amount of carbon dioxide.
Driving a fossil-fuel vehicle, again the gas is burned and emitted into the atmosphere.
Some examples of indirect carbon footprint activities can be as follows:
- Food Shopping
Buying groceries, the production and processing of the foods you bought will have produced some carbon.
- Data Storage
Sending an email, the energy used to store and send the information over servers emits a carbon footprint.
The total sum of your direct and indirect carbon dioxide emitting activities then make up your personal ecological footprint.
Which Are the Biggest Contributors to Our Carbon Footprint in Ireland?
While CO2 quantities involved in consumption and production in everyday life vary, there are some general truths about the greatest contributors to CO2 emissions, which are:
We examine each of these attributes in further detail below.
How Does Energy Usage Contribute to Your Carbon Footprint?
Electricity, unless renewable, is produced as the result of combusting fuel. This process, as we already know, emits carbon. But how much exactly? In Ireland, the cleanest energy sources are wind, hydroelectric power, followed by solar power.
It is worth keeping in mind that given that carbon is produced even by the processes to manufacture equipment necessary for renewable energy (e.g. solar batteries), there is currently no carbon-free process for energy production.
The worst fuel by far in terms of carbon output is coal, at 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted for every kWh. This is then followed by petrol at 2 pounds, and natural gas at 0.9 pounds.
Irish energy customers can vote with their feet and choose energy suppliers who favour renewable energy.
In the table below, you'll find the cheapest offers from Irish suppliers that provide 100% renewable electricity.
|Supplier||Best offer||Price per year|
|SSE Airtricity||10% Discount
*Figures are for illustrative purposes only. Calculations based on average consumption figures for an urban home with a 24-hour standard meter. All discounts and cashback have been applied.
**The fuel mix from Bright Energy, Ecopower, Waterpower, and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
Last Updated: 22/03/2023
How Does Food and Agriculture Affect Your Carbon Footprint?
As support grows for a move toward plant-based diets due to sustainability and environmental issues, it’s now commonly known that diets which contain more meat and animal-based products have higher carbon footprints.
Vegetarian food has a much lower carbon footprint, and vegan diets produce the lowest amount of CO2. According to the latest statistics from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), agricultural activities account for 38% of Ireland's carbon footprint. While one of the main contributors to Ireland’s spiralling carbon emissions, the methane released from farm animals is not the only culprit.
Food waste is also a contributor. By buying more food than we consume, we push the industry to produce more to meet consumer demand — a demand inflated by our less-than-sustainable practices in our own kitchens.
What Impact Does Transportation Have on Your Carbon Footprint?
Carbon is emitted in Ireland not only by using national and local transport networks but also by international travel. 2019 marked the 9th consecutive year of growth for tourists visiting Ireland with 10.8 million visitors from abroad. Add to this figure the 8.8 million Irish residents who travel overseas passing through airports and you get a lot of high-octane fuel dispensed into the atmosphere.
Source: Central Statistics Office
Personal measures can also be taken, such as carpooling and switching to electric cars or hybrid cars. The country continues to deploy more and more charging stations, making long-distance travel easier with an EV and the option more appealing. You can also consider getting an EV charger installed at home.
The first electric bus was delivered in Ireland as late as February 2019, and while the National Transport Authority announced plans to deploy 600 hybrid buses across Dublin and regional cities over the next 3.5 years, we are still lagging behind our European counterparts, where market penetration of electric buses reached 20% at the end of 2020.
How Do I Calculate My Carbon Footprint?
Various factors, such as your consumption habits and the size of your home, are involved in determining your carbon footprint. To calculate your carbon footprint, there are many different online tools that you can use.
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Website
One of the most popular carbon footprint calculators around, it consists of a questionnaire regarding the following factors:
- Your diet
- Means of transportation
- Energy consumption
- Spending habits
- Carbon Footprint Calculator
The website has a more in-depth calculator which requires you to know how many kWh of energy you use, litres of heating oil, and so on. The results though are sure to be very precise on your ecological footprint.
How Can I Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?
Ideally, the carbon footprint for any individual should be 2-3 tonnes max per annum. Unfortunately, in Ireland, we still have quite a way to go when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.
The latest Eurostat data from 2020 reveals that at the current rate of emissions, Ireland is producing 15.5 tonnes of CO2 per capita. This leaves us as the second-highest carbon emission producer in the EU, only beaten out by Luxembourg. In 2018, it was also revealed by SEAI that Irish households emit 60% more than the EU average.
- Ways to reduce your carbon footprint:
- Reducing your meat and animal product consumption.
- Buying locally (clothes, groceries, and other household products). This reduces the transport component (food miles) of items’ carbon footprints.
- Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season.
- Saying no to food waste - freeze items that you think will go off before you get a chance to consume them, or compost them.
- Growing your own fruit and vegetables.
- Buying products in bulk, or products that come with more natural packaging (such as paper or cardboard instead of plastic).
- Buying clothes made from natural fibres.
- Reducing energy consumption in your household.
- Improving your home heating system with an energy-efficient system like underfloor heating.
- Upcycling or recycling unwanted furniture, clothing and other belongings.
- Switch to a renewable energy supplier.
See how much of your supplier's electricity comes from renewable sources in the table below:
|Bord Gáis Energy||41.1%|
|Find the Best Renewable Energy Offer||Call (01) 913 1771 Ad|
Source: CRU Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions 2021
, pg. 24.
*The fuel mix from Ecopower, Waterpower, and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
What Is Carbon Offsetting?
Following all the steps above will certainly enable you to reduce your carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting, on the other hand, helps bring that footprint to net zero.
It is incredibly difficult in this current day and age to have zero carbon emissions. Consequently, you can now pay environmental organisations for them to invest these funds in projects which combat greenhouse gas emissions, such as:
- Plant trees, these capture CO2 found in the air and convert them to oxygen.
- Develop wind and solar power farms in developing countries.
- Build power plants which convert waste-related methane into energy.
- Improve agriculture techniques to reduce CO2 emissions.
- Projects to help improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings.
As greenhouse gases affect the earth’s atmosphere worldwide, reducing or compensating for CO2 emissions anywhere in the world benefits us all. Under the Kyoto Protocol in the Paris Agreement, countries that fall under their carbon emission limits can sell off the remaining allowance as credits.
One CER, or Carbon Emission Reduction Certificate, represents a metric ton of CO2 taken out of our atmosphere and further mitigates the effects of global warming and reduces the risk of extreme heat waves.
Another interesting way for countries to offset carbon output is to obtain carbon offset allowances through the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism).
What is the Clean Development Mechanism?The CDM is one of a set of flexible mechanisms included in the Kyoto Protocol which provides carbon emission reduction certificates called CERs. Developed countries can buy CERs from developing countries. This enables more industrialised countries to meet their carbon targets and to fund emission reduction initiatives elsewhere.
What Is the Irish Government Doing About Carbon Offsetting?
In 2019, ahead of the realisation that Ireland was set to miss its 2020 carbon emission reduction goal set by the EU, the government unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions. With more than 180 measures detailed in the report, Ireland still hopes to meet the 2050 zero-emission targets.
The road to meeting the ambitious 2050 targets will be paved with retro-fit energy-efficient housing, more electric vehicles, and higher carbon taxes, among other measures.
To meet the next deadline on the zero-emission path, the government will need to purchase CERs and plant a large number of trees. While individual citizens of other European countries, such as the UK and France, can purchase CERs and make their contribution to reducing global carbon dioxide levels, no governmental schemes have been rolled out in Ireland as of yet.
Critics of CERs have claimed that people who purchase CERs lose sight of the fact that the priority is to reduce their emissions — not to carry on as before and just offset them. There is some truth in this, but CERs are a necessary element in reaching our 2050 targets.
The battle against global warming towards a sustainable future requires the following efforts:
- Behavioural and policy changes to reduce carbon emissions being produced.
- Reduction and absorption of existing emissions through CERs and initiatives such as reforesting.
What is meant by “zero-emissions”?Zero emissions refers to a state of carbon neutrality, which is not the same as emitting zero carbon particles. Carbon neutrality is a state of equilibrium where the number of emissions and the planet's capabilities for absorbing them cancel each other out to a large extent.
How Can I Offset My Carbon Footprint?
Carbon offsetting is just one of a range of tools available to combat climate change. If you want to help in the fight against greenhouse gases and the havoc being wrought upon our environment, but you're not sure how or where to start? Carbon offsetting can help by reducing carbon dioxide emissions around the world. Select the carbon offset plan which suits you best.
|Amount of CO2 Offset in Tons||Price|
|2.08||€2.99 / month|
|2.95||€4.99 / month|
|5.03||€5.99 / month|
|6.94||€7.50 / month|
|12.98||€14.99 / month|
|(01) 913 1771||Weekdays 9 am to 6 pm|
Did you know?If you have a garden, you can contribute to carbon offsetting in the easiest way possible, by planting more trees! One tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can hold up to a ton of carbon by 40 years of age.
What Carbon Offsetting Schemes Are There?
There are several other carbon offset projects currently active in Ireland in which the general public can participate. Although you can’t directly purchase CERs in Ireland, you can still contribute to carbon offsetting by donating to such organisations that will plant trees on your behalf for as little as €3 per tree. Here are a few of the carbon offset projects available in Ireland:
Thorlux is a lighting company which has been running a carbon offset scheme since 2009. Although its products are available for sale in Ireland, the actual offsetting is carried out in Wales where they have planted 149,849 trees which have offset over 32,000 tonnes of CO2.
- Ireland Ecotourism/Trees on the Land
Ireland Ecotourism works in conjunction with the cross-border Trees on the Land initiative to run native tree-planting events and arrange one-off tree-planting activities for tourists. If you’d like help or advice with planting trees on your land, or to make a donation to Trees on the Land, you can find all the necessary information on the Trees on the Land website.
- The Boghill Centre
The Boghill Centre in County Clare is a venue for workshops, conferences and holidays. Situated on the edge of the Burren, the centre boasts a sustainable complex with its own fruit and vegetable gardens and subscribes to a green ethos.
The centre also runs a woodland project aimed at planting native trees and accepts donations in order to fund this. You can also choose to pay per tree (€3) when making a donation.
Vita is a charitable organisation which works in Africa to support families and communities. In particular, over recent years it has focused on enabling access to sustainable household energy.
An example of one such scheme is where more efficient stoves are provided to households. These stoves use 60% less wood than the traditional versions, thus meaning fewer trees cut down and more carbon absorbed.
Vita has a carbon calculator page where you can calculate your carbon footprint and offset it by supporting programmes such as the example above. You can choose which scheme you would like to donate to, or opt for a “quick offset”.
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The future is clean and green, or rather, we hope it will be. In order to meet our country’s future Paris agreement targets, serious thought needs to be given to personal ecological footprints, and legislation brought in to reduce emissions in the sectors producing the most carbon dioxide.
This means we need to examine our habits as citizens and a country together, reduce our energy expenditure, invest in renewable energy and technology, and work to reduce existing emissions through reforestation and carbon offsetting.
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