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Reduce your company carbon footprint: Building a brighter future together

Keep reading to learn more about reducing your business carbon footprint, why it’s important, and how individuals and organizations across the globe are making a commitment to this critical cause.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the measure of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, organization, product, service, or activity. The size of your individual carbon footprint depends on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, modes of transportation, frequency of travel, home or operational energy consumption, shopping and eating habits, and overall waste production. The size of your corporate carbon footprint depends on a variety of factors as well, such as production waste management, office energy efficiency, transportation methods, sustainable production and development, etc.

Carbon footprints can be divided into two categories:

  • Direct emissions—These are the emissions that come from activities that you directly control, such as running office climate control or managing a fleet of vehicles.
  • Indirect emissions—These are the emissions that come from the production of goods and services that you consume, such as the electricity used to power your office, or the water used to grow your food.

The United States has the highest carbon footprint in terms of per capita consumption. The average American contributes 16 tons to environmental degradation, which is eight times more than the global average of four tons. Below are a few statistics that shine a light on the scope and primary sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions:

  • In 2018, the U.S. emitted 6,677 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from energy-related sources. This accounted for about 14 percent of the world’s total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions that year.
  • About 81 percent of total U.S. emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels—such as natural gas, oil, and coal—to produce electricity, heat buildings, power vehicles, and power other industrial processes.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., accounting for 29 percent of all emissions in 2018.
  • Most transportation-related emissions come from passenger cars and trucks, which produce about 60 percent of transportation sector emissions.


Carbon footprint definition and meaning

A carbon footprint is one way to measure the impact of human activities on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The top three greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O):

  • Burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil releases CO2 into the atmosphere at significant levels.
  • CH4 is released primarily from livestock and landfills.
  • Fertilizers, chemicals, and other industrial processes are largely responsible for N2O.

These gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, causing the planet to warm. This process is called climate change, and it threatens our planet and our way of life.


A brief history on carbon footprints

Carbon footprints are a relatively new concept, although human activity has been contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases for centuries. The 1800s saw a dramatic increase in emissions, thanks in part to the Industrial Revolution and rising city populations. During this time, the use of fossil fuels for energy production grew in popularity.

Additionally, the deforestation that accompanied the development of cities and factories further increased greenhouse gases. This is because trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and their removal led to a higher accumulation of greenhouse gases.

The origin of the term “carbon footprint” is often attributed to Mathis Wackernagel, a Swiss-born regional planner, and William Rees, a Canadian ecologist, when they wrote a book in 1995 titled Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. In it, they described how we can think of our impact on the planet in terms of an environmental footprint, and they used CO2 emissions as one way to measure that impact.

When discussing carbon emissions, “CO2” is often used interchangeably with “greenhouse gases.” However, a variety of gases in addition to CO2 contribute to climate change—the gradual warming of Earth’s atmospheric temperature—since these gases trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to significant environmental changes. The term CO2e—short for carbon dioxide equivalent—was recently introduced to express all greenhouse gases as a common unit. Throughout this article, the terms “carbon emissions,” “greenhouse gases,” and “CO2e” will all be used to describe the emissions that are considered in the calculation of your individual and corporate carbon footprints.

What is carbon removal?

Carbon removal refers to any technology or approach that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, then stores it in a way that prevents it from being released back into the atmosphere. Carbon removal is important because it can help us combat climate change by reducing the overall concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

There are several different carbon removal methods, including:

  • Direct air capture—This technology involves capturing CO2 from the air and storing it underground.
  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)—This approach involves burning biomass (plant material) to generate energy, then capturing and storing the resulting CO2 emissions.
  • Enhanced weathering—This method involves spreading crushed rocks over agricultural land or other open spaces. The rocks then react with CO2 in the atmosphere to form new minerals, which are stored in the ground.

Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to carbon removal.

How does carbon removal impact our planet and our future?

Carbon removal can help mitigate climate change and its various effects, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, and loss of wildlife habitats. It can also help improve air quality and water resources, as well as create new economic opportunities, such as jobs in developing and deploying carbon removal technologies.

There are many organizations around the world working to remove carbon from the atmosphere through a variety of methods, including planting trees, preserving and restoring forests, and creating green infrastructure. Some of these organizations include:

  • The Nature Conservancy
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Enterprise organizations like Microsoft are also joining the commitment to carbon removal efforts by creating and scaling negative emissions technologies.

Sources of greenhouse gas emissions

Every decision an organization makes—and every activity it pursues—affects how much CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprints and slow down climate change.

Before looking at specific ways to reduce your environmental impact and carbon footprint, it’s important to understand the most significant factors contributing to climate change.

Activities that increase CO2e emissions

The three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), deforestation, and agriculture.



Large machines in a field that are mining for fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, accounting for about two-thirds of all emissions. Fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity and to power cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes. When these fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a greenhouse gas.

An aerial view of a large field next to a forest.


Deforestation occurs when forests are cleared to make way for farming or development. As part of the photosynthesis process, trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to produce and release oxygen. When deforestation occurs, less CO2 can be naturally absorbed, resulting in a higher accumulation of greenhouse gases. Deforestation is responsible for about 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A person driving a tractor through rows of crops.


Agricultural practices that involve tilling land or raising livestock also produce methane and nitrous oxide. These gases are collectively known as agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. In terms of their effect on climate change, methane is about 25 times more potent than CO2, and nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent. Of note, livestock farming accounts for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

How to reduce your carbon footprint

Understanding the impact of your carbon footprint is an important step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of climate change. The good news is that there are many ways to reduce your individual carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future. While some people advocate for reducing society’s reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, others believe that even making small changes in our everyday lives will add up in big ways.

For example, individuals can start by making simple lifestyle changes, such as conserving energy, recycling, and choosing environmentally friendly products. At the organizational level, we can implement carbon removal efforts, as well as advocate for changes in policy, invest in renewable energy, and support businesses that are working to reduce their own carbon footprint.

In this Economist Impact report, learn how different industries are taking pragmatic steps to decarbonize their operations. Delve into why companies are a powerful force in slowing climate change and how the manufacturing, financial services, retail, and energy industries can lead the way.



Why is carbon footprint reduction important?

Scientists have been warning us for years that we need to take action to head off climate change, and the window of opportunity for doing so is rapidly closing. To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by the year 2030, with a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Reducing your carbon footprint is one of the most powerful things you can do to help combat climate change. By producing less CO2e, you can help reduce the overall amount of these gases in the atmosphere and contribute to the slowing down of global warming.

Additionally, reducing your carbon footprint can improve your own health and the health of those around you. For example, by walking or biking instead of driving, you’ll produce less emissions, resulting in better air quality. And since exposure to air pollution has been linked to a range of health problems—like respiratory infections and heart disease—doing what you can to reduce emissions can have a real and positive impact on your community.

While there are many ways to reduce your business carbon footprint, such as switching to renewable energy or becoming more efficient in your use of resources, eventually we’ll need to remove carbon from the atmosphere if we’re going to stabilize the climate. This is where carbon removal comes in.

How can big companies reduce their carbon footprint?

Some of the ways businesses and organizations can reduce their carbon footprint include:

  • Improving energy efficiency

    Energy efficiency measures can help businesses save money by using less energy while simultaneously reducing emissions. Some examples of energy efficiency measures include switching to more efficient lighting options, installing solar panels, and using energy-efficient appliances.

  • Offsetting your emissions

    Similar to RECs, offsets are a way for businesses to reduce their net carbon footprint by investing in projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. For example, a business could invest in a project that plants trees, which absorb CO2.

  • Deploying renewable energy

    Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro power, generate electricity with little to no greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses can use carbon management software with renewable energy to power their operations.

  • Reducing waste

    Producing goods creates a significant amount of waste globally. Some ways to reduce waste include recovering and recycling materials, choosing more environmentally friendly packaging, improving production efficiency, and implementing preventative equipment maintenance, to name a few.

  • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)

    Purchasing RECs helps businesses offset their emissions by investing in renewable energy projects. When you purchase a REC, you are supporting the development of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro power.

What steps can I take to reduce my individual carbon footprint?

Individuals can also take steps to reduce their carbon footprints, such as:

  • Using less energy at home

    Some ideas for reducing energy consumption at home include using LED light bulbs, unplugging electronics when they’re not in use, and setting your thermostat a few degrees lower in the winter and higher in the summer.

  • Eating less meat

    As mentioned previously, livestock farming is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. You can help reduce these emissions by eating less meat, or by choosing meat that comes from animals that have been raised in a more sustainable manner.

  • Driving less

    You can reduce your carbon footprint by carpooling, taking public transportation, biking, or walking.

  • Recycling and composting

    Recycling, composting, and avoiding single-use products helps keep waste and materials out of landfills where they break down slowly and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

What are the benefits of reducing my organization’s carbon footprint?

There are many benefits to reducing your corporate carbon footprint. By taking steps to reduce your organization’s overall emissions, you can help protect the environment and improve your bottom line. Aside from the obvious effects of reducing your company carbon footprint—namely, helping to combat climate change—there are several other benefits to consider:

  • Reduced operating costs—Improving your energy efficiency can help you save money on your energy bills. Plus, generating your own energy means you aren’t at the mercy of fluctuating energy prices.
  • Stronger market position—Many of today’s consumers are interested in supporting businesses that are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment. Reducing your business carbon footprint can help you attract and retain customers.
  • Increased efficiency—By reducing your reliance on fossil fuels, your business can avoid power outages and downtime, becoming more efficient as a result. This can lead to additional cost savings as well as a reduced environmental impact.
  • Improved public image—A company’s reputation is important to its overall success. Sustainability efforts that help reduce your carbon footprint can help strengthen your reputation among consumers, employees, investors, and the community at large.
  • Reduced risk—As the effects of climate change become more evident, companies that haven’t taken steps to reduce their emissions will be at a competitive disadvantage. Reducing your carbon footprint can help your business stay ahead of the curve and avoid such risks.

Climate change is a global issue and—given their large-scale impact—businesses have a responsibility to join the commitment to a more sustainable future. Your organization can establish itself as a sustainability leader and set an example for other businesses and individuals to follow.

Ultimately, the decision to reduce your carbon footprint is a wise one for both the environment and your organization’s bottom line. By reducing your energy consumption and minimizing waste, you’ll be doing your part to help preserve our planet for future generations—while also saving money in the long run.

Carbon footprint solutions

No matter where you are in your sustainability journey, cloud–based technology solutions can help you move forward. These innovative technologies are helping to reduce your business carbon footprint and support the global transition to cleaner energy:



A person working on a tablet in an office.

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability

Get the insights you need to record, report, and reduce your environmental impact.

A field of solar panels and a city skyline in the distance.

Emissions Impact Dashboard

Collect and connect data in the cloud to better grasp your environmental footprint.

A person doing work on a quantum computer.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is poised to speed problem-solving around shifting to renewable energy sources like solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal.

Microsoft’s commitment to reducing our carbon footprint

Microsoft is committed to a more sustainable future by reducing its carbon footprint, accelerating research, helping its customers build sustainable solutions, and advocating for policies that benefit the environment. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

Watch the video to learn more

Reduce your carbon footprint

Try the Emissions Impact Dashboard from Microsoft to gain transparency into the carbon impact of your cloud usage and help measure your carbon savings potential.

Frequently asked questions

  • A carbon footprint is a measure of the environmental impact—in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into the atmosphere—created by an individual, organization, or other entity. The term 'carbon' refers to any amount of carbon dioxide released as a result of burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal. Earth’s current average temperature rise is primarily due to this increase in atmospheric concentrations of GHGs.

  • Reducing your carbon footprint is an important step in slowing climate change and creating a more sustainable future. Here are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint:

    • Drive less. Consider using public transportation, carpooling, or biking when possible.
    • Reduce energy use. Turn off lights, unplug electronics when they’re not being used, and switch to energy efficient lighting and appliances.
    • Eat sustainably. Reducing the amount of animal products you consume is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Simply replacing beef with chicken cuts food-related emissions by 75 percent. Additionally, buying locally grown foods helps decrease transportation-associated emissions.
    • Shop wisely. Buy used items as much as possible since new products require additional resources for manufacturing.
    • Avoid single-use plastics. One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by reducing waste. Opt for refillable water bottles, reusable shopping bags and storage containers, and compostable packaging whenever possible.
    • Invest in green energy sources. Look for clean energy providers—for example, those that use wind or solar rather than relying on fossil fuels—if available in your area.
  • Reducing your carbon footprint is an important step toward improving public health and preserving the planet for present and future generations. Carbon emissions produced by human activities like burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial agriculture contribute to global warming, air pollution, ocean acidification, environmental degradation, food insecurity, water scarcity, and extreme weather events.

  • There are many things that contribute to the size of your carbon footprint. Some examples include:

    • Energy use and reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
    • Food choices, like how much meat and packaged foods you consume.
    • Lifestyle considerations, for example, how many electronic devices you use since these often contain materials that require a lot of resources to mine, and your consumer buying habits.
    • Transportation preferences—for instance, whether you drive daily, use public transportation, fly frequently, or walk and bike regularly—significantly affect the size of your carbon footprint.
  • The level of carbon emissions from each person varies extensively around the globe, with residents who live in more highly developed countries producing bigger carbon footprints. Compared to the global average, the United States has a large carbon footprint. In 2021, residents had a per capita output of 14.24 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, which is more than three times higher than the global average. That same year, France's per capita carbon footprint was 4.58 metric tons, while Brazil and Tanzania had a much lower footprints—2.28 metric tons and 0.21 metric tons, respectively.

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