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What is a Carbon Footprint?

Walking or riding a bicycle helps reduce the carbon footprint.

Answered by Marty Matlock.

The conversation about human impacts on climate change often leads to discussions of our carbon footprint. All human activities generate carbon emissions; the more prosperous we become, the more greenhouse gasses we tend to emit. The amount of greenhouse gasses we emit on an annual basis is often referred to as our carbon footprint.

We can make decisions at the personal, family and community level that reduce our carbon footprint. In general, the largest contributor to our carbon footprint is energy used, especially electricity in the home and workplace and petrochemicals for transportation. Energy conservation strategies reduce costs and carbon footprints. They make sense at every level. Choosing alternative transportation methods such as walking or riding a bicycle has similar economic benefits, and also helps improve personal health.

Working at the community level to ensure that our energy system includes more renewable energy reduces the carbon footprint of the entire community. Over the past 15 years, the University of Arkansas reduced its carbon footprint 34 percent per square foot of building space, and the overall campus carbon footprint was reduced to less than 1995 levels. And this happened while enrollment nearly doubled!

For more information about carbon footprint and what you can do to reduce it, the Nature Conservancy has a great household calculator to give perspective on what day-to-day activities generate the most greenhouse gas emissions: http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/

Marty Matlock

Marty Matlock

Executive Director of Sustainability

Marty Matlock is executive director of the Office of Sustainability and a professor of ecological engineering in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. His research focuses on life cycle assessment of agricultural, urban, and supply chain systems; ecological services design and restoration; and watershed restoration and management.

About The Author

A former newspaper reporter, Matt McGowan writes about research in the College of Engineering, Sam M. Walton College of Business, School of Law and other areas. He is the editor of Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast of the University of Arkansas. Reach him at 479-575-4246, or dmcgowa@uark.edu.

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