Carbon Offset Calculator: Find the Exact Emissions to Offset ANYTHING

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | February 1, 2023

Two scientists using a balance to measure the carbon emissions of a truck with the carbon offsetting power of a tree, connected to a carbon offset calculator.

A carbon offset calculator can help anyone find their personal emissions footprint. But, did you know you can measure the emissions of practically anything. Then, it’s easy to use the information to offset the greenhouse gas generated by it.

It’s true! You can effectively cancel out and erase the carbon emissions from any activity or product that is necessary or important to your lifestyle.

 

Measure Emissions with a Carbon Offset Calculator

Calculate the Emissions of Anything

To erase the carbon footprint of something, you first need to calculate its carbon emissions.

The formula for calculating any action or item’s carbon footprint is based on adding the greenhouse gas emissions (including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O)) produced from every stage of the life cycle. Much of the footprint stems from energy use. Different gases are weighted according to how much heat holding capacity (a.k.a. global warming potential) they have, and the resulting measurement is assigned a mass of carbon dioxide equivalents, which is indicated by CO2e.

For example, to calculate the emissions of a smartphone, the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) generated by forming and producing the materials (plastic, glass, electronic components), are added to the emissions created during the assembly and production process, and then the GHGs of the materials used to ship the phone, as well as the shipping emissions are added to that amount.

Chart that shows the carbon footprint per capita in the United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and United Kingdom.

To measure the emissions of one vehicle trip, that’s a little easier, but to figure up the GHGs produced by one vehicle, you have to add in all the production and component fabrication as well.

Carbon Offset Calculators Can Help

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a chemical scientist to figure up the harmful emissions generated by a product or action. This can be done using an online carbon offset calculator in some cases, because most of the eco footprint calculator options that can be found add up a personal emissions amount by subdividing your lifestyle into various categories (home energy consumption, transportation, etc.).

These categories represent the biggest emissions producers for most people, but there are others that can dial the emissions down to a single item.

To get started, you can input the required lifestyle information and the calculator will tell you your overall yearly footprint, or (in other words) how much greenhouse gasses are emitted for any given category, creating the CO2e.

And this extends to more than just your lifestyle. If you own a small business and want to make it more environmentally friendly, you can use a business carbon footprint calculator to determine the overall total carbon footprint, as well as the footprint of individual aspects like shipping, transportation and operations.

Chart that shows the average carbon emissions from home energy consumption using electricity, natural gas, propane, and coal.

Breaking down this information into categories and parts provides tools for reducing emissions. For example, when calculating the emissions of the energy your home uses, you can pinpoint that amount and then make changes based on more energy efficient options.

Finding Carbon Emissions Using a Carbon Offset Calculator

Some calculators are designed to calculate the carbon footprint of an individual, while others are meant for businesses or larger corporations, and still others provide the emissions for specific items, like a specific vehicle, or the footprint of one piece of plastic.

In either case, finding the emissions of everyday activities and products is just a matter of measurement.

Many carbon offset calculators are divided into several sections, each of which focuses on a different part of your lifestyle or business. These sections will often provide you with an overview of how much CO2 is generated by your participation in certain activities or the purchasing of specific products.

When using a lifestyle calculator, the following steps and categories are fairly standard.

Location: How Much Carbon Does the Average American Produce?

Location plays a key role in emissions. The average U.S. resident annually produces about 20 metric tons (approx. 22 U.S. tons) of carbon dioxide emissions. The world average, however, is 4 metric tons (approx. 4.4 U.S. tons).

In fact, the world average is significantly less than the lowest observed carbon emissions of any individual in the U.S., that being 8.5 metric tons (approx. 9.4 U.S. tons).

U.S. residents tend to produce so much carbon dioxide because of how large the country is. With a general lack of public transportation options, much of an individual’s carbon footprint is defined by their daily commute or business affiliated travel.

When measured by the number of people in the country (per capita), the largest emitters are counties with low populations and high amounts of energy production:

CountryPer Capita Carbon Footprint
United States14.24 metric tonnes (15.7 US tons)
Australia15.37 metric tonnes
Saudi Arabia17.97 metric tonnes
United Kingdom4.85 metric tonnes

But, that picture is incomplete without looking at the total amount of emissions generated by the country as a whole. By and far, China generates more greenhouse gas than any other country in the world. In fact, it’s over twice as much as the U.S.

Home Energy Consumption

Home energy emissions are mainly generated by your utility usage. To calculate the footprint, you will need your utility bills to determine where your household energy is sourced (electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, coal, propane, etc.) and how much you are using on a monthly basis.

Averages are included in the table below:

Energy TypeAverage Carbon Emissions from Energy US/ Globe
Electricity.85 pounds per kWH / 1.07 pounds per kWh
Natural Gas117 pounds per BTU1
PropaneOne gallon = 12.61 pounds
CoalApprox. 220 pounds per BTU

Electricity emissions vary based on location, because electricity is generated in different ways in different areas. Generally speaking, hydropower, nuclear, as well as solar and wind power generators are much cleaner than coal-burning power plants.

Food Consumption:

Your diet plays a key role in generating emissions. Certain items have a lower footprint than others. For example, growing tomatoes on your patio in a self watering planter will generate less greenhouse emissions than buying a tomato from the grocery store that was grown in Mexico.

The transport of the food, as well as the packaging and other processing tasks all combine to increase the footprint of a tomato purchased from a grocer.

Likewise, the footprint of beef and dairy is higher than fruits and veggies, due to the land and resources needed to produce them. Some other food footprints include:

Food ItemMeasure of CO2 Per Serving
Beef6.61 pounds
Cheese2.45 pounds
Pork1.72 pounds
Chicken1.26 pounds
Eggs0.89 pounds
Potatoes0.03 pounds
Rice0.16 pounds
VegetablesRange: 0.20-0.03 pounds

When this measurement is factored into a personal emissions calculator, it combines with other activities to produce the full yearly footprint.

Chart that shows food carbon footprint per serving of beef, chicken, pork, cheese, eggs, potatoes, rice, vegetables.

Some common food emissions facts include:

  • Production of food (processing) is responsible for approximately 68 percent of emissions.
  • Transportation (on average) accounts for about 5 percent.
  • Meat carbon footprints are higher (and especially in beef), because the methane released by natural animal activities is factored into the CO2e.
  • On average, greenhouse emissions for beef are 7.2 times higher than chicken and poultry products. 2
  • Since pigs and poultry are livestock that is non-ruminant, the methane factor is removed from the emissions formula, making them a better choice than beef or lamb.
  • Emissions from plant based foods are anywhere from 10 to 50 times lower than most meats.

When finding the carbon footprint of meat and all other foods, the following factors are included:

  • Land Use
  • Farm Operations
  • Animal Feed
  • Processing
  • Packaging
  • Transportation
  • Retail

Personal Transportation

To figure out the emissions generated by each of your vehicles, there are a few ways to do it. A dedicated car carbon footprint calculator can make it easy and fast to find your emissions, but you can also use your exact mileage, as well as the miles per gallon you get on average.

Or, you can simply measure up how much fuel you purchase and multiply that amount by 19.59 pounds.

Since vehicle fuel generates a fixed amount of carbon emissions, the mileage your car gets has less impact than the amount of fuel you burn. However, other actions do contribute to how much fuel you have to burn to go the same distance. Some things include:

  • Maintaining correct tire pressure
  • Performing regular oil changes and other maintenance tasks
  • The age of the vehicle itself

When combined, these factors all play a role in establishing your carbon footprint, and a good carbon offset calculator will take them into consideration, adjusting the emissions accordingly.

Air Travel

Global aviation generates roughly 2.5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Measuring the carbon footprint of your annual air travel is a little trickier than for your vehicle use.

The calculation involves the distance of the flight, the type of aircraft, the type of fuel used, and how many seats (occupants) are on the flight to get the amount of fuel needed per person. Then, figuring the emissions generated from that amount of fuel.

But, there are additional factors as well. Like all emissions amounts, the extraction of the crude oil needed to produce the fuel, as well as the refining process should be included in the footprint. Plus, the manufacturing of the aircraft and its components also contributes to the overall amount.

Fortunately, the emissions from any flight can be calculated using a carbon offset calculator or the global averages, based on the type of plane being used. For example, a Boeing 737 jetliner averages approximately 0.25 pounds of emissions per passenger, per kilometer.

Public Transportation

Public transportation, such as train travel, has a relatively lower carbon footprint than most. To calculate public transit, the same aviation formula must be applied:

  • Vehicle and fuel type
  • Amount of fuel needed for a specific distance
  • Number of passengers
  • Manufacturing and production

Because more than one person can ride in a public transportation vehicle, that’s good. But, the fuel amounts are higher in buses and diesel trains.

In general, averages for riding in public trains are around 0.069 pounds of CO2e per passenger, per kilometer. For a bus, the number jumps to 1.81 pounds of carbon emissions, per passenger, per kilometer.

Pets

The average footprint of a pet may be larger than you think. Pets contribute to your overall emissions, largely due to the food processing required, as well as vet services, toys, and other things your pet needs.

Common Household PetPet Footprint (Approximate)
Dog1700 pounds per year
Cat683 pounds per year
Fish255 pounds per year
BirdsNo studies on measurable amounts

Purchasing Tendencies (Spending)

Spending habits play a key role in carbon footprint emissions, and studies have shown that the higher the income, the higher the total footprint of an individual.

Basically, more expendable income translates into more spending on products and services that generate a carbon footprint. Some of the most common emitters include:

  • Dry Cleaning service
  • Beauty and Salon visits
  • Home accessories and improvements
  • Clothing

Clothing, in particular, is a very large charge on the planet. But, with a carbon offset calculator, you can find those emissions and erase them as part of your monthly budget.

Carbon Footprint of Clothes and Common Household Items

The ‘fast fashion’ industry generates over 1.2 billion metric tonnes of CO2e every year.

Why?

A lot of the problem has to do with China. A large portion of the cotton produced in the U.S. is sent to that country for processing into garments. The reason is the cheap labor. The cotton gets milled, woven, cut, and assembled and then the items are sent back overseas to the U.S. and other countries around the world. According to the UN’s trade statistics, China produces 30 percent of the world’s clothes.

But, it actually gets worse. Cotton is a ‘natural’ product, but the environmental cost of many fabrics that aren’t grown or produced sustainably, exaggerates the problem for the environment. The massive use of chemicals and synthetic dyes and the fresh water wasted during manufacturing, combine with the consumer fashion ‘trend’ mindset to form a cycle of destruction.

Moreover, many of those garments end up in landfills, generating even more methane. To figure up an item of clothing’s emissions, the following information is used:

  • Raw materials (For example, the water and pesticides needed to grow the crop.)
  • Milling and processing (Around 60 percent of the footprint stems from processing fibers.)
  • Fabric weaving
  • Dying and treating
  • Packaging and shipping
  • Transportation
  • Retail
  • Garbage (11 million US tons of clothes were sent to landfills in 2018!)

In the wake of the waste and cost to the environment, retailers and many brands have begun implementing sustainable practices in their products. In addition, the idea of a capsule wardrobe is gaining ground, because limiting the number of clothing items you keep and buy can lower your carbon emissions.

A carbon offset calculator for clothing can help you identify the environmental costs of your wardrobe, so you can erase those emissions in a positive way for the planet.

Offsetting Emissions (Erasing the Carbon Footprint Of Anything)

Carbon footprint calculators not only demonstrate how you can offset indirect and direct carbon emissions for your total lifestyle, but can also help you zero in on specific items and tasks. And, once you measure the CO2e of an activity or product, you can erase that amount of emissions using tree planting offsets and other programs, like the Earth-Friendly Web Usage Carbon Offset that replenish the earth’s natural defenses against greenhouse gas.

Moreover, these tools provide actionable information about how to make changes in your daily behaviors in order to reduce harmful emissions. Things like hanging at least one load of clothes to dry instead of using an electric dryer, choosing to invest in a capsule wardrobe instead of relying on fast fashion, or investing in energy efficient light bulbs and windows can all help to reduce the greenhouse gas you generate.

Plus, when you combine offsets and sustainable practices, you can truly live a net zero lifestyle, cementing your stance to help the planet. Because if everyone chose to erase their emissions, the dangerous results of climate change and other environmental damage could be lessened immediately.

But, even one small act can be a big step towards healing Earth and regenerating its natural resources. By using a carbon offset calculator, you’re taking the first step to a more eco-friendly existence.


References

1American Geo Sciences. How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned? 1 February 2022. 2022. Web. <https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-much-carbon-dioxide-produced-when-different-fuels-are-burned>

2U.S. EPA (2020) 2020 Common Reporting Format (CRF) Table.