Terminology can be confusing. While the following terms are often used interchangeably, it is important to understand how they differ:
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)
- Carbon and
- Carbon Dioxide Equivalents.
There are many different elements in the air and in the atmosphere, some more harmful than others. GHG’s refer to all of the various elements that are known to cause warming of the environment: Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Fluorinated Gases. Carbon is often used as a shorthand for Carbon Dioxide, one of the most prevalent elements causing our environment to warm. Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (CO2e) is a unit of measurement that allows us to combine all GHGs into a single unit so they can be more easily compared.
For simplicity, you can think about carbon equivalents as a common denominator for climate change. It is a unit of measurement that allows you to assess the impact on the environment of seemingly different things, such as waste generation and energy use, as a single common measurement.
A Carbon Footprint is an analysis of the total amount of emissions attributable to a specific entity. Carbon Footprints are used by businesses, governments, and academia – and they are also useful to individuals and households.
A Carbon Footprint is meant to provide a snapshot of the quantity (in tons) and sources of the GHGs created, so that choices can be made that reduce the footprint. Ultimately the tool is useful because before it is possible to understand what changes to prioritize, it is first necessary to understand the magnitude of the impact on the environment.
A carbon footprint is just one tool in the toolkit to help reverse climate change. It is meant to be a guiding resource to help make sense of all of the confusing messaging around climate change. By understanding the carbon footprint of an entity, it is possible to make decisions that are right for the health and well being of our planet.
A Carbon Footprint includes two main parts: your inputs and conversion factors. Your inputs are what the Carbon Footprint tool asks you to enter.
Each of these inputs translates to GHG emissions through a conversion factor. Conversion factors translate your inputs into Carbon Equivalents. Conversion factors are developed by government agencies, such as the EPA, non-government think tanks, or academia.
A conversion factor for flights, for example, translates the input (number of flights per year) to GHG emissions. The total GHG emissions for an average flight may take into account a wide number of factors. For example, burning jet fuel, food and packaging waste generated by passengers, and the energy usage of the airport all produce carbon emissions. Each of these components emits a specific amount of carbon to the atmosphere through various biological or chemical processes. The aggregate of these is the total carbon footprint of the flight and your individual carbon footprint is the part of that total that is attributable to you as a passenger.
Your total footprint is the aggregate of all of these different contributions for each of your inputs.
A Carbon Footprint has two important limitations: 1) it is a snapshot at a given point in time 2) it is built on averages.
- When you calculate your carbon footprint you are doing so based on the information you have available at the time of the calculation. Most of our lives are dynamic, ever changing, and thus our total emissions, or carbon footprint, is likely to change as our lifestyles change. A Carbon Footprint therefore is not meant to be absolute. It is instead meant to help you understand how your lifestyle decisions impact the world around you and trends that might be insightful to help you reduce your footprint over the long term.
- A carbon footprint is built on averages. There is an inherent tradeoff between granularity and complexity. A Carbon Footprint tool like the one RegenAll provides, attempts to strike a meaningful balance for this tradeoff in order to help you understand your key contributors and opportunities without bogging you down with significant data collection or entry.
Reaching zero carbon emissions is very difficult for most people. Our modern world is built around activities, services and products that all produce carbon emissions. A carbon offset allows you to counteract your current impact by investing in projects that are directly reducing future emissions.
The idea behind an offset is to provide a temporary mechanism to bridge the gap between a household’s current emissions and a future goal of zero emissions. In this interim state, it is very likely that you will continue to have some carbon emissions that you cannot immediately eliminate. An offset allows you to make a one-for-one trade: you continue to take that cross country flight to see your loved ones for the holidays (which produces carbon emissions) so you pay a set amount to a fund that is then used to implement projects to reduce future emissions by the same amount of carbon from your flight.
An offset is not a perfect mechanism and by no means is it a substitute for continuing to find ways to reduce your footprint through lifestyle changes. Given that without immediate action at all levels of society, we are on track for a >3ºC change in global temperatures, the time lag of an offset makes it an imperfect and insufficient mechanism.
However, similar to the saying “all models are flawed, but some are useful”, the offset mechanism is flawed but still useful. A carbon offset helps create a important new funding source to invest in local climate projects that have a direct benefit to your local community.
The choice to offset your emissions is often unique to the individual. For some, offsetting emissions is a way to reduce the climate guilt they feel. For others, offsetting their emissions is a method of remaining aware of the gap that exists between their current state and the desired future state.
While the motivation differs for everyone, by offsetting your emissions you are helping to fund projects that will build a more resilient and healthy community right here in Lancaster County.
Your offset contributions go directly to the Community Climate Investment Fund. This fund identifies and invests in projects that meet the following criteria:
- Have a direct reduction on carbon emissions in Lancaster County
- Build a more equitable society by helping to reduce the burden of climate change on the most vulnerable in our community
- Are verifiable and traceable
The Community Climate Investment Fund is a new approach to funding local climate projects. The vision of the fund is to provide a meaningful way for people to offset their emissions while directly investing in improving the environment in Lancaster County.
When you offset your current carbon footprint through the Community Climate Investment Fund you are doing your part to help build a more resilient and regenerative community.
The Community Climate Investment Fund is run by RegenAll and overseen by an elected board of local community members. The Fund is responsible for sourcing, implementation and verification of climate projects.
A climate action plan is a step by step process to allow you to understand your carbon footprint and set meaningful goals to reduce your footprint over time. It is meant to be a tool to help your understand how to prioritize decisions in your life and tie them back to your impact on the world around you.