The energy footprint is 75% of the carbon footprint

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from?

You might have heard of carbon footprint almost whenever the subject of climate change is raised. It is simply the amount of Green-House Gases (GHGs) emitted by each and every activity we do. Activities such as driving a car, cooking, heating the house, and so on. Even the apple we eat has a carbon footprint (Watch the video in [1]). For those of you living in the USA, you can calculate your household carbon footprint in [2].

Figure 1 illustrated the portion of each sector on the carbon footprint. Although the portion may not be accurately shown, it is pedagogically helpful to understand the concept.

Figure 1- The concept of the carbon footprint of each sector. photo courtesy: sustainability illustrated [3]

Figure 2 illustrates the carbon footprint of various sectors in the USA in 2020. It is notable that each of the transportation, electric power, and industry sectors has more or less a quarter share of the carbon footprint in the USA.

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions by sectors in the USA in 2020 [4]

The high impact of energy on carbon footprint is highlighted in this article. Energy is the drive behind almost all of our activities. All of the sectors in figure 2 require energy and the source of CO2 emission is in most cases burning or using energy, e.g. to drive cars and to heat buildings. If energy is considered as a sector while transport, buildings, and industry as sub-sectors, the pie chart of GHGs will be as shown in figure 3 [5]. Almost 75% of GHG emissions or carbon footprint is due to energy consumption. Let’s define energy footprint as the amount of kWh or MWh the activity requires to be done. To understand the value of the unit kWh, an example is explained here:

A 10-year-old electric car can go 5 km/kWh, which means if you drive 10 km with this car, the energy footprint is 2 kWh. A diesel car requires roughly 1 liter of diesel to go 10 km and the energy in 1-liter diesel is 10 kWh. The electric car uses 80% LESS energy compared to the diesel car and therefore at least 80% less CO2 emission.

Knowing that the author encourages environment engineers, sustainability managers, journalists, investors, and last but not least politicians to be less obsessed with carbon counting and put some focus on energy footprint. The less energy consumption your activity has, the less GHG emission it has. Less energy consumption simply means higher energy efficiency. You achieve two aims at once by energy efficiency:

  • Less energy consumption means saving money (profitability)
  • Less GHG emission (sustainability)

Figure 3: Global GHG emissions by sector with focus on Energy [5]

Did you know?

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Author: Amir Hayati Soloot



[2] Carbon Footprint Calculator,