Methodology behind the carbon footprint calculator

There are different ways to calculate the carbon footprint of an individual. If you have tried out more than one calculator, you have probably noticed that the questions differ and so do the results. The quick answer to why this happens, is that it depends on which data the calculator is based off, and what assumptions are made. For the GoClimate calculator, we have explained the rationale between the choice of underlying data and the calculations that we base the tool on in the Methodology, which can be accessed HERE

If there is anything in the methodology that you find questionable, please reach out to us! Let us know if you disagree, have a better source of data for something, or how we could improve. The calculator will change over time because emission factors are updated regularly, which means that your result can change in the future. It could also change if we find better data or an even better way to calculate. These adjustments are however most likely minimal, and the biggest change is what you do yourself!

We calculate Food with general values from a UK study. Flights are calculated with our own API, and Car with emission factors provided by national sources (so that differs depending on where you are). Housing is using calculations based on national data on energy and electricity usage and national emission factors. Personal consumption, which is the clothes, furniture and other things you purchase, is based on a national average, weighted based on how much you purchase brand-new. To this we add a buffer for Public consumption which is infrastructure, hospitals, education etc.

Curious to know more about your carbon footprint? Read the other posts in this series:

Me and my carbon footprint
What is a “carbon footprint”?
The carbon footprint of a home
The carbon footprint of a diet
The carbon footprint of our traveling
The carbon footprint of long distance traveling
The carbon footprint of shopping
The carbon footprint of public consumption

Or go to www.goclimate.com to calculate your carbon footprint now!

27 Replies to “Methodology behind the carbon footprint calculator”

  1. It would be really good if there were questions about shopping or personal consumption habits to also show the impact of not buying lots of clothes or of shopping in zero waste and local shops vs supermarkets

    1. Agreed— they automatically said my carbon impact from shopping was 5.1 tonnes (the highest number of all my impacts) when I barely shop at all. That doesn’t seem like a super accurate estimate of my actual carbon footprint.

    2. I agree. I didn’t get any questions about my shopping behavior but it assumed that I emitted a certain amount of CO2 anyway.

    3. I agree. I buy almost 75% of my clothes and household goods from local thrift shops, and when I have to buy an item online, say from Amazon, I try to get the item used. Are these actions taken into account for my carbon footprint? I also buy handmade items from local artisians that do not produce asmuch waste as big companies.

  2. Since I focus the majority of my non-food shopping on second-hand items, I would like to see that calculated into my carbon emissions calculator.

  3. I was given 4.2 tonnes of emmissions for “public emissions and shopping” which needs more explanation, because i only take electrical trains, and i tend to buy very locally. The info lightly explained some addition for clothing and furniture, but i don’t really purchase those either. My consumption in France is very different from my consumption in Canada, and i expected to see more of a difference shown here. Thanks.

  4. As someone who is very conscious about my shopping consumption (I purchase my food from misfit markets, I thrift, purchase local & support small businesses, use earthhero, and try to purchase as little as possible; I do not appreciate being categorized with the national average of consumption. It would be really great to see more questions about personal consumption on this Carbon Calculator.

  5. Hi all! This is Stefan from the GoClimate team here.

    I just wanted to let you all know that we are hearing your feedback regarding options for shopping as a basis for our footprint calculator and we’re bringing it onto our agenda this week. I can’t give any promises on when you’ll see some changes, but we agree this category is important and are looking into how we could take it into account for the calculator.

    We want to make sure to be mindful of the fact that shopping contains so many different choices–all from clothing and everyday items up to and including car purchases and home renovations and anything in between–so it’s easy to miss asking for something you might do infrequently but that has a substantial impact on one’s overall shopping footprint. We’re looking for a good balance that is easy to give an overall answer to, yet doesn’t miss some huge little detail. What we’re aiming for is “roughly right” rather than “exactly wrong”. Depending on the amount and quality of data available, this might take longer or shorter to finish, but we are working on it!

    Thanks everyone for the feedback!

  6. No way this can be accurate. I don’t shop, which it automatically assumed you shop a great deal. I don’t heat my home at all, which wasn’t an option to choose. In addition, I drive a cng Powered vehicle, which again was also not an available option. I also live in a tiny home powered mainly by solar panels, so how can they guess your foot print by not knowing if your powering a large home or small or what your power source is, much less your vehicles fuel option? I love this idea but please fine tune this! I was ready to offset my foot print, and that of my two children, but not knowing What it may actually be…. I won’t be dishing out my family funds on something quite so vague.

    1. Hi Carrie! Thank you for your feedback. It seems like you live an extraordinarily climate friendly life, which is awesome! This calculator was developed to cater to the 80% of the population, and as I’m sure you are aware of, most people live their lives without making significant sacrifices for the climate. Hence a standard, 3 min calculator like ours will not be able to provide answers that accommodate everyone’s unique choices. What you do is great and we’d encourage you to either sign up for free so you get our content, or sign up and adjust the amount that you pay to accommodate for your family’s situation. Best regards!

    2. Hello! I understand the limitations of your calculator of course. I understand that this is a rough estimate not an exact percentage. That said based on what I have seen on the sight I am disappointed/wary about the lack of attention given to food. I controlled for all other answers in my quiz and found selecting “lots of meat” vs “plant based” only changed my monthly plan by 1 dollar. I know that to be impossible given the cold chain, shipping of food products, and other highly emissive process associated with meat eating. If you could point me toward a more elaborate break down of how this is calculated that would be great. If not, you absolutely should be considering using more of the research that is out there for that metric. Thank you so much!

      1. Hi Olivia!
        The values come from this study: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263353807_Dietary_greenhouse_gas_emissions_of_meat-eaters_fish-eaters_vegetarians_and_vegans_in_the_UK – and it’s the most comprehensive study we’ve found which compares different diets. In this blog post: https://www.goclimate.com/blog/the-carbon-footprint-of-a-diet/ we explain more details about this data. Hope this gives a better understanding of the calculator results!

  7. Here’s an update regarding to the shopping category of our calculator. We’ve now added a question to the test regarding shopping patterns, which is now accounted for in your result.

    The methodology in short is that we’ve looked at studies of total shopping and how much of that shopping is reasonably avoidable. Some types of purchases still remain such as leisure, rentals and repairs, which does have some carbon footprint. Picking the low-shopping option in the new version of the test now takes only those emissions into account for your result. More about the methodology in the updated link in the post above.

    We’re happy to answer any questions and hear your further feedback on this topic!

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