We, residents of the countries of the North, lead a rather frantic pace of life in general. The harassing supply of consumption catalyzes the desire to always have the latest novelties and to want to replace our goods sometimes broken, sometimes become bland in our eyes. We have the means to afford a new couch “to spice things up”, a new pair of shoes “because we deserve it” or a “good piece of red meat”.

This consumption is intrinsic to our high standards of living and is the result of our comfortable living environments: the higher we have a high income, the more we consume [1]. However, this proximity to consumption has direct consequences on environmental and social systems. These impacts are invisible, but very real. Our lifestyle and the decisions we make daily dictate the patterns of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The international community has been unanimous for several years: reducing our GHG emissions, both in global organizational systems and in consumer choices, is the key to reversing climate change.

Affluent citizens of the globe would be the most responsible for environmental impacts but would be central in the transition to practices that tend to achieve safe environmental conditions [1]. It can be difficult for some to turn to a more sustainable lifestyle while we are surrounded by incessant advertisements and incentives to consume. However, according to a 2019 CBC survey, 75% of Canadians are willing to make changes to their daily lives to help reduce the impact of climate change [2].

Before embarking on the purchase of bamboo straws, a host of reusable bags and making your entire grocery store in bulk, it is relevant to measure your environmental footprint to target what actions would really be beneficial in our situation. That’s what several individual online environmental impact calculators allow!

These free calculators aim to bring together different environmental impacts of human activities on a common denominator. It is by asking us various questions about our lifestyle habits that these digital tools can quantify our personal impact on the planet… or on several planets, for most inhabitants of industrialized countries. Indeed, we can obtain answers in the form of area, such as the number of planets we would need to support our individual activity during a year; we can also obtain an answer in terms of the number of tonnes of equivalent CO2 emitted per year.

The ecological footprint provides us with an answer in terms of surface area. This calculation method quantifies the area required to produce food and consumer goods, to which is added the area needed for the absorption of pollution and waste generated by our daily activities. The Canadian national average is 5 planets [3]. The tool developed by the Global Footprint Network allows the calculation of this personal area and to visualize the emission sectors that require the most attention. It offers related solutions to reduce its ecological footprint.

The carbon footprint, on the other hand, gives us an answer in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2 emitted per year. It is the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change from our activities that are calculated. These gases include CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), all of which are related, by mathematical conversion, to the corresponding numerical value of CO2.

For example, the emission of one tonne of methane is equivalent to the emission of 28 tonnes of CO2 [4]. By adding up all the quantities of gas emitted into the atmosphere by our activities, which we report on the common denominator of CO2, we say that our carbon footprint is equivalent to X amount of CO2 equivalent. Most online calculators include the 3 GHGs mentioned above, but there are no standards. The organizations that develop the calculators can decide which GHGs they want to include.

These tools, which have multiplied in recent years, have been developed by governmental and non-governmental organizations and by private companies [5]. There is no standard that governs these tools, but they must combine two common tasks, namely that of effective communication that the current carbon footprint is far form being considered sustainable and that of suggesting the pursuit of a more sustainable footprint [6]. However, if the same data is entered into separate calculators, the results obtained will differ greatly from one tool to another [7]. There are several reasons for these differences.

Calculators ask different questions, some more pointed than others. The sectors with the most impacts are the energy used to heat and light homes, transportation habits and diet. Some tools do not ask questions about diet, which can produce inaccurate and erroneous results considering that diet constitutes between 16 and 31% of a person’s footprint  [5]. While other tools go so far as to ask additional questions about the quantities of waste we generate, the purchases we make and even our annual income, which are good indicators of our consumption patterns, and therefore of our environmental impact.

The tools may also use different conversion factors or may not be adapted to the geographic context of the person who wants to know their footprint [7]. For example, the energy footprint of a person who lives in Quebec is significantly lower than that of a person who lives in Alberta. In Quebec, 95% of energy is produced from hydroelectricity [8], compared to Alberta, which produces 91% of its electricity from fossil fuels [9]. Some tools do not adapt to the context, which is a key factor in the value of a person’s carbon and ecological footprint.

One thing is certain, it is impossible to calculate its impacts to the gram or hectare. Questions are answered to the best of our ability and calculators also have their share of uncertainties. However, it is an important tool to make us aware of our environmental impact and the importance of improving our daily practices. Individual results are always compared to national or international averages to be able to visualize the magnitude of its impact. Calculating one’s personal footprint is an important starting point in the journey towards a more low-carbon lifestyle. Most tools offer customized solutions according to the sectors of our activity that require the most attention. Some even go so far as to propose offsetting its emissions through monetary contributions to carbon reduction and sequestration projects.

At Will, we believe that any gesture to reduce GHGs is valid and important. That’s why we offer you to calculate your footprint with these tools and make changes that would be sustainable in the long term in your lifestyle. Changing your light bulbs for efficient bulbs, shortening your showers by one minute, running more errands by foot and cycling and taking public transit more often, prioritizing car sharing, reducing your consumption of animal products are all actions that intervene in areas that have significant impacts on environmental systems.

Once you have made these changes, we invite you to recalculate your fingerprint with the same tool that you originally used. You will undoubtedly see a decrease in the value of your footprint, to your credit! Finally, we invite you to contribute monetarily for your irreducible emissions. This path is effective to become aware of its impact and to ensure the sustainability of its daily life. According to WILL, prioritizing the reduction of its GHG emissions before participating in voluntary carbon markets is the path to success in the fight against climate change.


Our suggestions for calculation tools :

Global Footprint Network : A tool developed by the non-profit organization that allows you to calculate your ecological footprint while visualizing the most important emission sectors.

CoolClimate Network : The tool developed by the University of Berkeley is one of the most detailed since it adapts to the geographical context of the person answering the questionnaire and it asks questions about various sectors of our daily activities.


Text written by: Alexie Roy-Lafontaine, Scientific Writer for the Web and Social Networks