Terrapass Carbon Calculator Could Be Better: Here’s How in 5 Steps

Terrapass carbon footprint calculator computes the amount of carbon footprint made by individuals and businesses' based on transportation usage and electricity consumption.

Terrapass is one of the many organizations stepping up to the plate, providing individuals with the necessary tools to reduce their environmental impact, like their Terrapass carbon calculator.

Yet, not all carbon dioxide (CO2) personal emissions calculators gather the proper information to give accurate greenhouse gas estimates. By incorporating more facets of living green and carbon neutral activities, carbon footprint estimates can become much more accurate.

With just a few tweaks, Terrapass can ensure their calculator avoids this problem.

Keep reading to find out how…

What to Expect from the Terrapass Carbon Calculators

Terrapass offers three different calculators for people to use when preparing to offset their emissions. One is for individuals, the next is customized to businesses, and the last is for events. Each of them covers a valuable set of metrics that form the bulk of factors contributing to the average carbon footprint.

However, despite the strengths of the individual version, along with the business and event versions, Terrapass’ carbon calculators could be better.

The Terrapass Individual Calculator

The individual carbon footprint is complex, and composed of many aspects of a person’s lifestyle. Terrapass’ calculator focuses on what are usually the biggest indicators of one’s carbon footprint.

These details include:

  • The make and model of a personal vehicle, including miles driven
  • Public transportation use (choices include train, bus, taxi, and ferry)
  • Air travel, which users can track by the number of flights, miles traveled, gallons of fuel consumed, or their average trip length
  • Household energy use (includes electricity, natural gas, heating oil, propane, gasoline, and diesel, all contextualized by the user’s zip code)

At first glance, Terrapass offers a standard yet admittedly limited calculator for shrinking single or group carbon footprints. This individual calculator does not incorporate pets, diet, or spending habits, all of which contribute greatly to overall CO2 emissions.12, 13, 14

The Terrapass Business Calculator

Terrapass’s business calculator is similar to the individual iteration. It contains many of these factors, along with a few extras.

This first stage is dual purpose. You’ll need to input details such as:

  • Your name, title, company or organization name
  • What industry you work in
  • Number of employees in the business

On the one hand, it gathers the information necessary to send the business’s emission results upon completing the survey. On the other, it contextualizes the data using the zip code and industry, primarily.

Different industries emit varying amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs). So, your footprint will likely be drastically different from your competitors’ or companies in unrelated or adjacent sectors.

The latest emissions estimates from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illustrate how each economic sector differs in its environmental impact:1

  • Agriculture: 10 percent
  • Commercial & Residential: 13 percent
  • Industry: 23 percent
  • Electricity: 25 percent
  • Transportation: 29 percent

Not only do these divisions emit varying amounts of GHGs, but they also consume different energy types and quantities. For example, over 90 percent of the transportation sector’s energy is petroleum-based, mainly including gasoline and diesel engines. On the contrary, electricity production (for most countries) relies primarily on coal and natural gas, depleting the Earth’s natural resources.

By collecting details about the kind of business you own or work for and its industry, the Terrapass calculator can improve its accuracy and applicability. This helps your company offset its carbon footprint as efficiently as possible.

Apart from the fundamentals, the business calculator also gathers information about the employees’ commutes, including the distance they travel and the types of vehicles used. It also considers any relevant business-related shipping information (e.g., whether you ship by air, truck, or train, how often, from where, and package weight).

Interestingly, the calculator also inquires about the business’s servers – yes, the computers responsible for managing a computer network, facilitating tasks like file storage, and maintaining databases.2 Presumably, this is because data centers reportedly contribute to approximately 0.3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.3

The Terrapass Event Carbon Calculator

Interestingly, the Terrapass event carbon calculator is the only one that includes information about food consumption habits. You begin by entering details about your and your attendees’ travel information, and you can average your guests’ air travel or track each trip on its own. Of course, the latter would be more accurate.

Where your guests are staying matters, too. For instance, you all might consume less energy if everyone met at a single residence. However, if everyone takes separate taxis and sleeps in different hotel rooms across the city, your impact will likely be much more pronounced.

Even if you’re only staying for a little while, hotels impose quite a hefty environmental burden, particularly in their energy use, water consumption, and waste production.4 Studies show that hotels consume 130 megajoules of energy per bed per night, equating to 20.6 CO2 per bed per night.5

Pie charts showing greenhouse gas emissions by American industry sector.

You’ll also need to account for the water and food you consume. Specifically, you’ll enter the total number of water bottles you drank, along with the number of meals you and your party ate.

How Can the Terrapass Calculator be Better? 5 Steps

The Terrapass calculators are excellent tools for those looking to minimize their environmental impact. Unfortunately, they don’t quite touch on all the necessary details to give users an accurate baseline for shrinking their footprints. Luckily, these simple fixes could make the calculator much more effective.

1. Improve Navigational Ease

One thing that immediately stands out as frustrating is that you cannot navigate backward using the “Previous” function without losing all your entered information. Many may see this as a non-crucial detail, but some level of convenience must mark invitations to engage in climate action.

Experts from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University state, “It’s important to make sure [your carbon calculator] is user friendly and easy to understand, because when it comes down to it – this calculator needs to be fun and accurate so that people will actually use it!”6

Frustrating the users by deleting all their information when using a basic calculator function can drive away aspiring environmentalists, and lower the tool’s value altogether.

2. Account for Single-Use Plastic Items

None of the Terrapass calculators include any questions about individuals’ or business’ habits concerning single-use plastic items.

These are common products in office spaces and homes, typically in the form of single-use cups at company water dispensers, toothbrushes and floss in home toiletry kits, and of course, food and equipment packaging.

This is a severe oversight that could lead to highly inaccurate carbon dioxide emissions estimates, thereby reducing the effectiveness of any offsetting activities based on the calculator’s results.

Terrapass clearly knows this, as demonstrated by the organization’s events calculator. In this version, the user must input details about their eating and drinking activities, including the number of water bottles used and the types of meals they ate.

Unfortunately, even this feature is significantly limited. It does not account for the types of dishes used, where the meals came from, what the specific foods were, and if attendees consumed any packaged foods.

Incorporating these details into all three versions of the calculator could drastically improve the accuracy of Terrapass’s emissions results.

3. Incorporate Data on Eating Habits

Speaking of food, your diet is possibly one of the most environmentally impactful elements in your life. Everything you eat has a climate cost, especially when it’s not locally sourced or home-grown. Meat, eggs, and nuts comprise the bulk of the typical American diet.7 In 2018, the average American had access to:

  • 65.2 lbs of chicken
  • 54.6 lbs of beef
  • 16.1 lbs of fish and shellfish

These just happen to be some of the most environmentally burdensome foods on the planet. Yet, fish and other seafood have better potential for sustainability than the others.8

In fact, Sustainable Fisheries compared protein categories and determined that fish were among the best, falling into the “Low” impact category in terms of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted per gram of protein.8 On the other hand, poultry was situated in the “Medium” division, and beef was determined to be “High” impact.

Asking users how they eat, what they eat, and how they get rid of the leftovers (i.e., landfill vs. compost) is essential to sharpening the Terrapass calculator’s accuracy.

4. Integrate Additional Details About Energy Use

While the energy use portion of the Terrapass calculators is relatively in-depth, they are quite restrictive. This section only allows users to track the amount of nonrenewable energy they use, such as petroleum-based energy (i.e., gasoline and diesel) and heating oil.

Instead of cornering users this way, the calculator should take various types of energy use into account. This would undoubtedly yield a more detailed picture of how a single person’s or business’s life contributes to global carbon dioxide emissions. It would also provide a realistic starting point for changing their lives for the better.

This wouldn’t merely be a matter of adding convenience to users who may have different energy use habits. Rather, such a change would be a realistic reflection of increasing societal norms.

The US Energy Information Administration reported that, as of 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for roughly 12 percent of all US energy consumption.9 These included:

  • Wind
  • Hydropower
  • Solar
  • Biomass
  • Geothermal

Incorporating these alternatives as choices in the calculator questionnaire would certainly yield more accurate, applicable results.

5. Acknowledging Waste Habits

One useful element that Terrapass can work into all the calculators, especially the event version, is a question about the user’s waste habits. How much food and material do you waste, and how often?

Wasting food is a massive environmental hazard. In the words of Recycle Track Systems, “Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else.”10 People waste food for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, your food may have gone bad, or your child simply didn’t like a meal and decided to throw it out.

Many of these decisions are fleeting, but have lasting consequences. Americans alone waste 1.4 billion tons of food per year (about 30-40 percent of the country’s food supply), more than any other country in the world.11

The food that ends up in the landfill contributes to nitrogen pollution, accounting for 1.1 teragrams (Tg) of Nitrogen per year, or just over 1,100,000 tons.11

Apart from food, plastics and other items are often wasted in businesses and homes. This clutters ecosystems with human’s trash, harming the plants and wildlife that live there.

Adding a question about how the person throws away their belongings would cover the nuances associated with the carbon footprint of waste generation.

Finding an Effective Carbon Calculator that Doesn’t Miss a Detail

Although they have many strengths, each version of the Terrapass carbon calculator is missing just a few details that could significantly improve their accuracy and applicability.

By perfecting the ease of use, and incorporating crucial details such as the user’s eating patterns, single-use plastic use, energy consumption, and waste habits, Terrapass could supply individual’s with the precise data users need to lessen their environmental impact.

In the meantime, you’ll need to turn to an ecological footprint calculator that considers the many nuances and caveats that come with your individual footprint, that way you can get the total picture. And once you know the full emissions impact, you can get a tree planting offset strategy or program, like the Pets Carbon Offset, built by one of the top carbon offset providers and completely erase your footprint. With methods like this, you can get the accurate results you need to start saving the planet now, and in the meantime, Terrapass can improve their results.


1United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Sources of greenhouse gas emissions. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

2Dontigney, E. (n.d.). How does a business server work? Small Business – Chron.com. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/business-server-work-15394.html

3Jones, N. (2018, September 12). How to stop data centres from gobbling up the world’s electricity. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06610-y

4Parambil, M. A. (2019, February 18). Hotel industry and environmental impacts [PowerPoint]. Slideshare. https://www.slideshare.net/AMALDASKH/hotel-industry-and-environmental-impact

5Gossling, S., Peeters, P., Ceron, J. P., Dubois, G., Patterson, T., & Richardson, R. B. (2005). The eco-efficiency of tourism. Ecological Economics, 54(4), 417-434. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921800904003994?via%3Dihub

6Santa Clara University. (n.d.). Make your own calculator. https://www.scu.edu/environmental-ethics/carbon-footprint-calculator/create_calc/

7USDA Economic Research Service. (2021, April 20). Food availability and consumption. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-availability-and-consumption/

8Sustainable Fisheries. (2020, September 11). The environmental impact of food. https://sustainablefisheries-uw.org/seafood-101/cost-of-food/

9US Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions (FAQs). U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

10Recycle Track Systems. (2021, April 20). Food waste in America in 2021. https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/

11Grizzetti, B., Pretato, U., Lassaletta, L., Billen, G., & Garnier, J. (2013). The contribution of food waste to global and European nitrogen pollution. Environmental Science & Policy, 33, 186-195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2013.05.013

12McMahon, J. (2017, August 2). Dogs, Cats And Climate Change: What’s Your Pet’s Carbon Pawprint? Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2017/08/02/whats-your-dogs-carbon-pawprint/

13Moskin, J. (2019, April 30). Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered (Published 2019). Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/30/dining/climate-change-food-eating-habits.html

14Cho, R. (2020, December 16). How Buying Stuff Drives Climate Change. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/12/16/buying-stuff-drives-climate-change/

15Image Source: Terrapass. https://terrapass.com/