11 December 2009

Your carbon footprint

Is the planet barely feeling your dainty tread or are you Bigfoot?

In the year 2007 the former US presidential candidate Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the Nobel Prize for peace.

The award reflected a growing recognition that, in Jeunesse Park’s words, “Climate change is the most crucial issue of our time and the biggest environmental challenge we face.” Jeunesse Park is the founder of Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA).

Know your footprint
According to Park, the first step is to know what kind of carbon footprint you are leaving behind. To this end, the FTFA and Price Waterhouse Coopers joined forces to develop and host the first carbon calculator specific to South Africa.

The idea is that if you are able to put a figure to the amount of carbon you are putting into the atmosphere, it makes it easier and more pressing for you to do something about it. You can access the carbon calculator on the FTFA website at

According to the FTFA website: “This awareness has resulted in companies and individuals who have used this carbon calculator, and worked with FTFA to plant trees and initiate emission reduction programmes. These include installing an auto switch-off programme for air conditioners and lights in office buildings, increasing paper recycling in branch offices, further reducing energy consumption by changing to energy-saving light bulbs, and even rationalising travel.

The carbon calculator tells you how many trees you need to plant to neutralise your carbon footprint. But, there is a lot you can do beyond planting trees – and these are things you can do right away.

Things you can do

  • Turn off lights when you don't need them.
  • Fit energy-saving light bulbs.
  • Open the windows and turn off the air conditioners.
  • Switch off your computer and other appliances when they are not in use. Switching them off at the plug point as well will help save additional energy.
  • Switch to solar power where possible.
  • Walk, cycle or use public transport instead of driving.
  • Drive more slowly - it is safer and uses less fuel, which results in less emissions.
  • Buy locally produced items and organic food. If your organic veggies have to be flown in from halfway around the world, they are leaving quite a substantial carbon footprint.
  • Avoid unnecessary packaging.
  • Request your bills electronically and pay them online.
  • Reduce paper usage and recycle as much as possible.
  • Consider teleconferencing instead of travelling to meetings.

(This list is based on a list presented by Park and a similar list published on the FPFA website.)

- (Marcus Low, Health24, updated December 2009)


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