Plastic Footprint vs. Carbon Footprint: How do they compare?

October 18, 2021

Plastic Footprint vs. Carbon Footprint: How do they compare?

In this article:

  • How are companies reducing their carbon footprints and how are they measured?
  • Why aren't more companies reducing their carbon footprint?
  • What is a plastic footprint and how are companies reducing it?
  • Why is it important to reduce plastic footprint?
  • What can brands do beyond carbon & plastic footprint reduction to be more environmentally conscious?

Climate change leaders like Patagonia, B-Corp companies, Icebug, Knickey, and Sezzle, to name a few, are paving the way for so many other companies to incorporate sustainability into their bottom lines. But what does climate-neutral stand for exactly, and how does a plastic footprint and carbon footprint differ from one another? Keep reading to find out how each is important.

Q & A

How are companies reducing their carbon footprint?

The first step towards reducing carbon footprints and becoming carbon-neutral as a company is in accurately calculating and disclosing how much carbon is being emitted into the environment. Starbucks, for example, closely analyzed their entire production process and broke it up into several stages to determine which one was the most carbon-intensive. [1]

From there, they were able to focus the majority of their efforts on consumption, which turns out to be the most problematic. They also decided to invest in Green-E certified Renewable Energy Certificates, which are energy-efficient technologies allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint significantly. [1]

When it comes to big companies such as Starbucks, it is important for them to pave the way for smaller companies and set an example by testing and utilizing new technologies to reduce their impact. Equally important is forging a path of transparency when it comes to reporting. Small companies, on the other hand, can learn from big companies and slowly adopt their sustainability methods in order to benefit the environment, with customer needs & values in mind. [1]

How are carbon footprints measured?

A carbon footprint stands for the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of a series of actions (production, distribution, consumption, etc.). Carbon footprints include both carbon dioxide and methane. In the United States, the average carbon footprint per single person is 16 tons! This is an alarming figure considering the fact that it is one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. [2]

If you want to become part of positive change and make efforts towards a healthier planet, the first step would be to calculate your carbon footprint. From there, you can see what aspects of your everyday life as an individual could be adjusted. Don’t worry, we won’t bore you with unnecessary numbers, formulas, and equations - all you need to do is enter your data in this carbon footprint calculator and the results will be calculated automatically.

Why aren’t more companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint?

When it comes to big companies that have been long focused on profit as the bottom line, change can be daunting. Investing in eco-friendly protocols and technologies, creating strategies, and sticking to them in the long run often involves a complete overhaul of the company. It’s expensive and complicated.

On the other hand, with the urgency of the matter in mind, many of you might side with Greta and can’t help but wonder why more companies aren’t choosing a more environmentally friendly path? And when we say that the matter is urgent, we quite literally mean it. According to The Guardian, we are burning through more carbon dioxide than we’re supposed to, in order to avoid the Earth’s temperature exceeding 2C above pre-industrial levels. [3] Unfortunately, it seems that the environmental efforts of exemplary companies simply can’t compensate for the lack of effort of other companies.

On a more positive note, statistics show that 81% of the 500 largest companies in the world have come up with sustainability strategies to lessen their contribution to global warming. What remains a problem is that efforts are moderate in comparison to how quickly climate change is worsening. It’s widely felt that they aren’t doing enough, as their emission reduction targets should be much higher than they currently are. [3]

One of the proposed challenges set out by governing bodies is for companies to go carbon neutral, or even carbon-free. When a company is certified as carbon neutral it means that they’ve calculated their carbon footprint and developed a strategy focused on decreasing their emissions. Carbon-free companies have gone one step further, generating NO carbon emissions during any of the operational stages, including production and provision. Clearly, the carbon-free status is something all companies should reach for in the long run (but sooner rather than later). [4]

In addition to their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, companies are also purchasing carbon offsets in order to limit greenhouse gases. While this is still considered a rather controversial tactic, it is widely used by many companies worldwide. A carbon offset, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, is basically a reduction in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. A carbon offset credit stands for a transferable instrument used to measure and indicate this reduction in metric tonnes of CO2, or other GHG. [8]

Basically, by purchasing carbon offsets, companies are making a donation to reduce the GHG they’ve already created. However, there’s also the option of buying these credits in advance, from a project that is planned before the “damage” has been done. This way the company is able to offset its carbon footprint in advance by investing in a healthier, cleaner future. [9]

When it comes to companies not putting in sufficient effort or simply greenwashing without any concrete measures, much of this boils down to cost rather than intention. No company should ever be blamed for trying to remain solvent - as long as they’re aware and actively participating in the global carbon emission-reducing strategy in any way they can!

How are companies reducing their plastic footprint?

Some companies, including Amandean, chose plastic neutrality as a way to help reduce plastic waste and contribute to consumer awareness of just how much plastic we’re all using. While going plastic-free sounds attractive in theory, not all products can retain their shelf life or stability using other types of materials. On the path towards a plastic-free economy, we are encouraged by organizations such as rePurpose Global to find ways of reducing, rather than eliminating plastic, through plastic neutrality.

Unfortunately, plastic is still the most convenient, affordable choice when it comes to packaging. What brands can do is identify the plastic footprint (the amount of plastic produced) and come to a net-zero plastic footprint. What this means is that companies will donate to grassroots waste management systems (like Waste4Change, in the case of Amandean) to support waste workers who focus on removing plastic waste from oceans and landfills. The amount donated is calculated according to the produced plastic in weight.

There are also companies launching 100% reusable items, especially bags and bottles, as well as fully biodegradable products such as wash capsules. This kind of initiative allows the companies to act in a more responsible way (especially in the long run), but also makes it easier for the customers to make the right choice.

What is a plastic footprint and how is it measured?

You’ve probably heard a lot about reducing your plastic footprint, but what does it mean exactly? Your personal footprint, or a company’s plastic footprint, is the amount of plastic contributed to global plastic waste, including both the consumed AND the produced amount of plastic. This doesn’t only apply to the products entirely made of plastic, but to plastic components used in the production and packaging of products. [5]

How big of an issue is plastic waste? Speaking in numbers, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually, while 8 million tonnes of it end up in the oceans. To make matters worse, plastic waste also contributes to the carbon footprint, since plastic also creates CO2. While some of the plastic produced is recyclable, a great portion of it ends up in oceans and landfills, which is an issue for the environment, animals, the food we eat, and the water we drink. [5]

If you’re curious to find out what your plastic footprint is as an individual or in your household, you can use this detailed calculator which includes all products containing plastic (including the ones that may slip your mind). From there, you can see what needs to be reduced, reused, recycled, or even eliminated altogether when it comes to your household.

What are the benefits of reducing plastic footprints?

By companies and individuals reducing their plastic footprints, we’re also tackling subsequent issues, including the amount of carbon dioxide we produce. Much of the issue lies in plastic production, which relies on non-renewable fossil fuels, contributing to the amount of carbon dioxide, and consequently - the greenhouse effect responsible for global warming. By limiting your plastic consumption, you’re reducing the demand for it, which means that its production will be limited too - as simple as that. Also, while recycling plastic is encouraged, this process also produces carbon dioxide, which means we should also limit the use of recyclable plastic. [6]

The plastic waste found in water sources, landfills, and all around us jeopardizes the well-being of animals. By reducing our plastic footprint and our reliance on single-use plastic such as bags and bottles, there is less contamination of animal food sources which ultimately kills animals over time, since they’re unable to digest it. What’s more, microplastic ends up inside marine animals, causing disease and even affecting their ability to reproduce. [6]

Plastic pollution further impacts water quality. Toxic chemicals from plastic products end up in groundwater. As you can already imagine, once these chemicals enter the natural water cycle, they end up everywhere - including in the food on our tables. Plastic waste can also be found in the air we breathe, as particles of microplastic are small enough to contaminate the air as well. [6]

Finally, toxic chemicals leaching from plastic waste can cause and/or worsen many health conditions in humans, including chronic inflammation, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, arthritis, and bowel disease. [6]

What can brands do beyond carbon & plastic footprint reduction to be more environmentally conscious?

A big part of being an environmentally conscious company is speaking up on the matter and encouraging partners, as well as customers, to take part in sustainable practices. Education is key. The best thing brands can do is lead by example, motivate other people, and create inclusive campaigns that allow every company and individual to participate. Global warming, plastic waste, and carbon footprint are topics to speak openly about by sharing different strategies and methods.

Also, it is up to big brands that have adequate resources to pave the way for smaller companies, offering their expertise and technologies, and sharing their knowledge and strategies.

While many initiatives remain unattainable for small companies, big brands should choose renewable energy sources to avoid using fossil fuels that have negative climate impacts. Environment-friendly equipment and workplace practices offer further steps towards a healthier planet. It is also important to reduce energy consumption by turning off lights when they’re not needed, unplugging devices, and lowering the heat and air conditioning when possible. Finally, CO2 emissions need to be measured and analyzed before deciding on the right strategy. [7]

Summary Points

  • The first step towards reducing carbon footprints is in calculating and disclosing how much carbon is being emitted into the environment
  • When a company is certified as carbon neutral it means they’ve calculated their carbon footprint and developed a strategy focused on decreasing their emissions
  • Some companies, including Amandean, choose to become plastic neutral as a way to help reduce plastic waste and contribute to consumer awareness around plastic consumption
  • Addressing your plastic footprints also helps to tackle carbon emissions at the same time
  • While many initiatives remain unaffordable for small companies, big brands should choose renewable energy sources to avoid using fossil fuels that have negative climate impacts

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Article References:

  1. How Can Companies Reduce Their Carbon Footprint? (n.d.). Retrieved from supplychainmanagement.utk.edu website: https://supplychainmanagement.utk.edu/blog/how-can-companies-reduce-their-carbon-footprint/
  2. The Nature Conservancy. (2019). What is your carbon footprint? Retrieved from The Nature Conservancy website: https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/
  3. Moodie, A. (2015, May 21). Companies aren’t doing enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, new report finds. Retrieved from the Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/may/21/climate-change-carbon-disclosure-project-mind-science
  4. Carbon neutral What does that actually mean? (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2021, from ClimatePartner website: https://www.climatepartner.com/en/carbon-neutral-meaning
  5. Your Plastic Footprint: What It Is and How to Reduce It. (2021, May 7). Retrieved October 7, 2021, from TONTOTON website: https://tontoton.com/your-plastic-footprint-what-it-is-and-how-to-reduce-it/
  6. What Are The Benefits of Reducing Plastic Waste? (2020, June 30). Retrieved from Cutters Skips website: https://www.cutterskiphire.com.au/what-are-the-benefits-of-reducing-plastic-waste/
  7. Fournier, C. (2017, September 26). 10 actions to be implemented in the company for the climate. Retrieved from Youmatter website: https://youmatter.world/en/actions-companies-climate-change-environment-sustainability/ 
  8. What is a Carbon Offset? (n.d.). Retrieved from Carbon Offset Guide website: https://www.offsetguide.org/understanding-carbon-offsets/what-is-a-carbon-offset/
  9. Carbon Offsets - What Are They & How Do They Work | NativeEnergy. (n.d.). Retrieved from Native Energy website: https://native.eco/our-approach/carbon-offsets/




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