Understanding Your Carbon Footprint
Student Activity Kit
Copy enough worksheets and background information for each student in the class. Each student will need access to a calculator to perform this activity.
This classroom activity is considered nonhazardous.
- This laboratory activity may be completed during class with use of the Internet. The Internet is not essential but it will assist students in determining mileage for trips.
- Depending on the level of your students, assistance may be needed with the calculations. For example, some students may find it difficult to estimate how many miles they travel on average per year. You may guide them by listing typical travel or presenting an example. Remind them they are not expected to remember every location they traveled over the past year but to get an idea of the average.
- Students may need to enlist the help of their parents in determining annual travel mileage.
- It will be necessary to instruct students to read through the activity the day before so they can get information from utility bills and/or get help from their parents.
- CO2 emissions for plastic and glass usage are averages, they are not individualized. They are intended to give students a general idea of the CO2 emissions involved.
- This activity is an excellent tool to use to wrap up studies regarding environmental pollution. Students will discover the impact of their actions on the environment.
- Flinn Scientific offers several environmental study kits in the Earth Science section of our catalog. These kits study topics such as acid rain, soil testing, water pollution, etc.
Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)†
Science & Engineering Practices
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking
Disciplinary Core Ideas
MS-ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
MS-ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
HS-ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
HS-ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
Energy and matter
HS-ESS3-3. Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among the management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.
Answers to Prelab Questions
- Sam purchased paint, a paint brush and a ladder from the store. Would this purchase contribute to Sam’s primary footprint or his secondary footprint? Explain.
Sam’s purchases contribute to his secondary footprint. While these goods do not give off CO2 themselves their production and/or disposal does.
- Peter needs to travel 57 miles each way to meet with a client for his job. How many metric tons of CO2 will be released as a result of this trip? Hint: Assume the vehicle receives 25 miles per gallon.
The total mileage traveled is 114 miles. The car Peter drives gets 25 miles per gallon so 114 miles/25 miles per gallon uses 4.56 gallons of fuel. Therefore 4.56 gallons multiplied by 0.002421 metric tons of CO2 per gallon. A total of 0.01099 metric tons of CO2 were released as a result of Peter’s trip.
- Ashley is planning a trip to visit her friend Amy over the holiday weekend. Amy lives 120 miles away. Assuming that either a train or the bus could be used for travel which mode of travel would contribute the least carbon dioxide, CO2, to Ashley’s carbon footprint?
Since average values are used, regardless of the distance a train emits less CO2. In practice it depends on several other factors (e.g., occupancy of the vehicle, type of driving [several stops versus constant travel]).
Residential Emissions Data Table
*Keep in mind students may not have data for all categories depending on what type of energy their house uses. The data table is completed for reference purposes.
Travel Emissions Data Table
Hospitality Emissions Data Table
Answers to Questions
- Based on the information in Data Table 1 and the information obtained in the Residential Emissions Data Table, calculate your daily CO2 emissions as well as your annual CO2 emissions. Record in the Residential Emissions Data Table.
Students may not have data for every category. All are presented to give a general idea of the approximate values.
7.3973 kWh x 0.0006214 metric tons CO2/kWh = 0.0046 metric tons of CO2 per day 0.0046 metric tons of CO2 per day x 365 days = 1.6778 metric tons of CO2 annually
0.9165 CCF x 0.005431 metric tons CO2 per CCF = 0.0049 metric tons of CO2 per day 0.0049 metric tons of CO2 per day x 365 days = 1.8208 metric tons of CO2 annually
0.3452 gallons x 0.0101468 metric tons CO2/gallon = 0.0204 metric tons of CO2 per day 0.0204 metric tons of CO2 per day x 365 days = 1.2785 metric tons of CO2 annually
0.3699 gallons x 0.00552 metric tons of CO2 per gallon = 0.0020 metric tons of CO2 per day 0.0020 metric tons of CO2 per day x 65 days = 0.7300 metric tons of CO2 annually
- Explain how you calculated the annual distance traveled for each mode of transportation listed in the Transportation Data Table.
Auto travel was calculated based on a 23 mpg vehicle travelling 20 miles round trip to gymnastics clubs twice a week. Club meets throughout the school year (35 weeks) for a total of 1400 miles a year. Also approximately 50 miles are traveled per week to do errands for a total of 4,000 miles a year.
Air travel was calculated based on one round trip from Chicago, Illinois to Orlando, Florida.
Rail travel was based on three 60-mile round trips from the suburbs to Chicago.
Bus travel was calculated based on the distance from the bus stop to school being 3.75 miles. At two trips a day, five days a week in a 35-week school year the total mileage is 1,312 miles.
- Based on the information in Data Table 2 of the Background section and the information calculated in the Transportation Data Table, calculate your volume of fuel consumed by car travel (based on mpg). Calculate the annual CO2 emission. Record in the Transportation Emissions Data Table.
4,000 miles traveled per year/23 miles per gallon = 173.91 gallons of gasoline
173.91 gallons of gasoline x 0.002421 metric tons of CO2 per gallon = 0.42104 metric tons of CO2 annually
1,982 miles x 0.000268 metric tons CO2 per mile = 0.53117 metric tons of CO2 annually
180 miles x 0.000109 metric tons of CO2 per mile = 0.01962 metric tons of CO2 annually
1,312 miles x 0.000177 metric tons of CO2 per mile = 0.232224 metric tons of CO2 annually
Bus Travel > 20 miles
100 miles x 0.000082 metric tons of CO2 per mile = 0.0082 metric tons of CO2 annually
- Add your annual CO2 emissions from the Residential, Transportation and Hospitality Data Tables. This is your annual carbon footprint. Record below.
Student answers will vary. Based on sample calculations this person’s carbon footprint would be 6.864 metric tons of CO2 per year.
- Calculate the percentage each component contributes to your overall carbon footprint. Prepare a pie chart to show the amount (percent) contributed by each aspect of your daily life.
Based on a household that does not use heating oil or propane.
- Compare your carbon footprint with those of three of your classmates. How do your carbon footprints differ?
All of our carbon footprints were somewhat similar. One classmate’s carbon footprint is much higher as he does not ride the bus and gets a car ride to and from school every day.
- What activities are different that could be modified to have the greatest impact on reducing your carbon footprint.
All of our carbon footprints could be reduced by riding a bicycle to and from school when the weather permits. It would also help to turn off lights, computers, etc., when not in use.
- What other activities, not included on this worksheet, may also contribute to your carbon footprint?
Consuming goods also increases our carbon footprint. If we only need three pair of jeans we should not buy more. Those jeans contribute to our carbon footprint in both their production and disposal.
Household Emissions Calculator Assumptions and References. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_assumptions.html Emission Facts: Average Carbon dioxide
Emissions Resulting from Gasoline and Diesel Fuel. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/420f05001.htm
About IPCC. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/about/index.htm