The difference between the carbon footprint & environmental footprint

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The carbon footprint and the environmental footprint: they are often confused or seen as the same thing, but there is a big difference. We'll explain it to you briefly.

Carbon footprint

The carbon footprint only focuses on all greenhouse gas emissions, expressed in kilograms of CO₂ equivalents (kg CO₂-eq). These equivalents make it possible to arrive at a single measure of global warming potential. It is an indicator of the potential global warming due to greenhouse gases in the air.

Visualisation of people inspecting CO2 footprint

Environmental footprint

But what about the other impact categories? An environmental footprint is actually a bundle of different types of impact results. An environmental footprint has more than 15 different impacts on the environment, including the carbon footprint.

Some of the other impact categories:

  • Eutrophication: the effects on water and soil as a result of the emission of nitrogenous compounds. A well-known problem in the Netherlands, with consequences for farmers and construction projects in particular.
  • Acidification: the possible acidification of soil and water as a result of the release of certain gases, such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. Acid rain is an example of this. Acidification can have major consequences for ecosystems and even cause damage to buildings.
  • Toxicities: This includes both the impact on human health (e.g. cancer) and on ecosystems (freshwater organisms) due to toxic substances released into the environment.
  • Ozone depletion: the airborne emissions that cause ozone layer destruction. Depletion of the ozone layer causes increased UV radiation on earth, which is harmful to human health (think of an increase in types of skin cancer). In addition, it affects agricultural productivity, as it reduces plant growth.

Although both types of footprint (carbon and environmental) can be calculated by means of an LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), only an environmental footprint takes into account all types of impact that a company can have on the environment.

Focus on CO2: the risks

Companies often only focus on the carbon footprint. This is not necessarily a negative thing, since the carbon footprint forms the largest part of the environmental footprint of many companies. However, there are risks involved in focusing only on the carbon footprint, because the environmental footprint is more comprehensive than just CO₂ or climate. Curious about the risks and solutions? Read our article 'Why not ónly the carbon footprint is important'.

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