Speak Your Footprint Machine Launched

Defra launched a beta-version of its carbon calculator this week. There were are few teething troubles on the first day that look to be resolved now. Developed in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust and hosted in a sub-domain of direct.gov, the site will caculate the carbon footprint of both you and your home.

Friends of the Earth, in a giant leap of logic, damned the caculator with faint praise with their statement that although the calculators could “play a useful role” in helping people to target climate change, they should not “distract from the crucial role that government must play in cutting carbon dioxide emissions”. Ah, thanks for that, it’s always worth being reminded that identifying the problem is not the same as fixing it.

The site has some beautiful animations and there’s some danger that you’ll linger on it, burning ever more pounds of CO2 whilst you study it, but you can whip through in 8 or 9 minutes, less if you have your electricity bill to hand and even less still if you already know how many lightbulbs you have. Someone told me yesterday that they’d entered 92 as their lightbulb count and were expecting a visit from the climate police any minute on the basis that the site asks for your postcode (although to be fair, it only wants the first part – so if the climate police are going to hunt you down, they’ll have to check local electricity bills)

Intriguingly for government:

The software that runs the back-end calculating “engine” is open source, and is, with the support of the Government, being licensed by the software developers, d::gen network limited under “open licenses” such as the GNU General Public License. For more information go to http://blog.co2.dgen.net/

It’s only a beta, which means feedback will be gratefully received. Personally I’d like to know more about what my carbon footprint means, e.g.

– in the light of coming/not coming/delayed HIPs, what grade would I get?

– what is average for my post code? The national average really doesn’t mean a lot to me. What about the average for a 3 bedroom apartment like mine?

– what is a reasonable target for me to aim for given where I’m starting from – there will be some things that I just can’t change or where the business case is marginal (I’m unlikely to rip out the air conditioning in my house – strangely, despite the fact that there are 700 apartments within 500 yards of my home, a/c is not a valid entry for type of heating). Just saying notionally 20% less isn’t too helpful

And then some additional options:

– Add air conditioning, halogen bulbs (my house is full of them and I haven’t changed any in 3 years)

At the end of the process, I’m told my house emits 9.96 tonnes of carbon a year, my appliances make up 4.6 of that and then there’s 5.96 more for travel. That’s 15.92 tonnes per year, about 60% more than the national average and 3 tonnes more than my notional target. I erred on the catious side too, so I’d like to think my footprint is at least a little lower. According to the methodology document, 46% of all domestic emissions and 74% of total emissions from home use come from space and water heating – and so the bulk of the calculation must be inferred from my electricity bill (heating is 46% of that I imagine), so I do wonder if it would be different if the calculator knew I had a/c at least (but, there again, it’s all driven from the electricity bill – so whether you have a/c, leave your stuff on standby all the time, have 47 fridges or 16 TVs is neither here nor there, given the cost is all reflected in the electricity bill).

(Note – I’ve updated the numbers since this post was originally made, including the total for appliances inside the household emission total)

Mr Miliband professes a lower number Earlier, he told GMTV that his “own individual carbon footprint … was 2.76 tonnes – below the national average of more than four tonnes.” I’m guessing that’s just his travel – either that or he doesn’t eat, sleep or live anywhere.

Still, all in all a worthwile exercise. I have an action plan, generic as it is, and I can take an interest in conversations in the lift at work about whether my footprint is bigger than someone else’s. If the next iterations add some more features, I’ll be back to check them out. And, the site is nicely designed, simple to use and a nice sign a willingness to make use of the direct.gov branding

There are other sites of course, like the “carbon caculator” (which, unlike the defra one requires you to register first).

* Disclosure: Whilst I presently work at Defra I have not worked on this project or anywhere close to it.

5 thoughts on “Speak Your Footprint Machine Launched

  1. AlanYour footprint seems very largeSee attached sitehttp://www.rsacarbonlimited.org/emissions/default.aspaI have just over 6 tonnes apparentlySince completing the analysis I have done little. My worst footprint seems to be taking the family on holiday abroad by air.Have you been following the Independent\’s story about bio-fuel. Apparently so much USA farmland is now being used for bio-fuel that food prices are shooting up and the knock on effect will be worse that the original problem.Law of un-intended consequences

  2. playing around with the calculator, the biggest single input to the footprint calculation is the electricity bill. I have no gas, only air conditioning in the house and all halogen lightbulbs (and no idea if they are good or bad in footprint terms). Given the electricity I use also drives the appliances I use, I think I must have made an error in this post – i.e. that my 4.6 tonnes of appliances are within the 10.34 of the household. Travel is pretty much a random number as far as I can tell. Obviously I\’ve lost the use of the private jet we had as a perk at the cabinet office (that\’s a joke) and I probably fly 3 times a year now versus the 3 times a week that I used to fly when I worked for a bank.

  3. I\’ve tried several times to do it, but when I enter my number of bulbs it just hangs. (I\’m now up to 127 light bulbs in my house. 8 low energy ones outside, I assure you. (and 4 500 watt floods.))Aha, I\’ve just sorted it. It worked. It won\’t let me put more than a hundred bulbs in. (What use is that?)4.32 Tonnes heating the house,1.55 Tonnes watching telly,then a whopping 16.93 Tonnes driving back to see my mother.(Not that I want to get bitter about it again, but if they hadn\’t spent my father\’s NHS money on my mother, I wouldn\’t have to keep making the trips.)Ian

  4. 20% of all CO2 in the world is from burning the forests in South America.Shame that number isn\’t actually cared about, only the output of \’industry\’ it seems.

  5. oops;Orange = 8.77Blue = 1.36Purple = 17.93Total 28.06Target total is 22.47.I think it\’s my 6 long haul flights a year which does it.Why is the \’target\’ so much higher than the national average? Seems a bit bonkers.

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