Carbon Footprint for Travel
The carbon footprint, or total greenhouse gas emissions, of a travel experience derives from several factors. Often, the largest of these factors is the transportation to, at, and from the destination.
The calculator below estimates the greenhouse gas emissions associated with university-related transportation. The calculator works in alignment with methodologies used to calculate UW–Madison’s full greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
Emissions estimates are based on miles travelled. If travel miles are not provided by your transportation provider, you can estimate with publicly available mapping tools such as Google Maps for bus / car miles and TravelMath for air miles.
The calculator on this page helps you to determine your approximate greenhouse gas emissions impact when you travel. In addition, you can follow the link above (or scroll to the bottom of this page) to learn about how you "offset" your impact and to consider the positive impacts of travel.
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Carbon Dioxide Equivalents
Greenhouse gas emissions are often reported in units of carbon dioxide equivalents, or CO2e. CO2e is the number of units of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one unit of another greenhouse gas. This calculator reports estimated greenhouse gas emissions in two units:
- MTCO2e: Metric Tons of CO2e
- 1,000 lbs CO2e: 1,000 pounds of CO2e
These are the most common units used for reporting and purchasing carbon offsets.
Greenhouse gas emissions are estimated following the emission factors and assumptions used in the Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform. This platform is designed for higher education institutions and is used by the Office of Sustainability to complete the UW–Madison Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Specific calculation details on the emission factors can be found here: https://unhsimap.org/2019table.
Greenhouse gas equivalencies are calculated from the latest UW-Madison Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
Expanded Carbon Footprint
Want to learn more about your personal carbon footprint? Consider checking out the Household Carbon Calculator developed by the Dane Count Office of Energy & Climate Change.
Now that you know the greenhouse gas emissions of your travel, you can reduce your carbon impact by purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsets support projects that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by:
- Capturing and destroying a greenhouse gas that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. For example: a methane gas capture project at a landfill.
- Capturing and storing (or “sequestering”) greenhouse gases to prevent their release into the atmosphere. For example: a project that promotes the healthy growth and maintenance of existing forests, or planting new trees that will capture or “sequester” carbon over the course of their lives.
- Producing energy using a clean, renewable resource that eliminates the need to produce that same energy from fossil fuels. For example: a project that produces wind or solar power.
We encourage you to consider offsetting your air travel by purchasing carbon offsets through one of these vetted providers:
Note: carbon offsets do not solve the complex problem of greenhouse gas emissions and there is debate over the best way to utilize them, but they offer a method for countering climate change that is accessible to individuals.
Beyond Offsets and Carbon Handprint
In addition to carbon offsets, there are a number of other ways to make your travel more sustainable, including:
- Eat locally sourced, plant-based food and purchase locally made goods
- Walk, bike, or take public transportation within your destination when possible
- Spend weekends exploring your primary destination rather than more distant locations
- Carry a refillable water bottle, travel mug for hot drinks, and reusable silverware
- Turn off lights/heat/AC, and unplug devices when not in use
While understanding the greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel is important, it is equally important to consider the personal, local, or global benefits of travel. Travel can accelerate learning and research that advances the global conversation and understanding of climate change or be combined with service projects that enrich local communities. Travel can also be an integral part of the UW–Madison learning experience extending the Wisconsin Idea across the world.