Glossary, questions and answers about footprints

Get answers to frequently asked questions about calculating climate footprints and search our glossary of professional terminology and important definitions.

What is climate change?

Climate change means changes in the average weather on the planet, over time. Climate change is created by gases in the atmosphere that capture sunlight, just as glass captures heat in a greenhouse. There are several types of gases that create heating, and we collectively call these greenhouse gases. 

What greenhouse gases do we have and where do they come from?

The most well-known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide or CO₂ - a chemical compound that we exhale and which is created when organic material such as wood or fossil organic material such as oil is burned. The amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere has increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution, as a result of humanity's use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. CO₂ accounts for about three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Another important greenhouse gas is methane, which is emitted, among other things, by the digestion of ruminants such as cows. Methane creates greater heating per amount of gas than CO₂, but in return has a shorter life in the atmosphere. Other greenhouse gases include nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons.

Why does Ducky measure greenhouse gases in CO₂-equivalents?

In order to look at the effect of different greenhouse gases as a whole, we convert the amount of different gases to CO₂ equivalents, or kg CO₂e. This is a unit that takes into account both how much a type of gas contributes to warming and how long it stays in the atmosphere. Methane for instance has a much stronger heating effect than CO₂ but also breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere. In sum, 1 kg of methane emitted corresponds to 25 kg CO₂e emitted.

Why doesn’t Ducky measure other things?

CO₂-equivalents is just one of many indicators of sustainability. Land use and water consumption are two other examples. We choose to focus on CO₂-equivalents because this is well mapped and perhaps the most serious challenge for humanity right now. Low greenhouse gas emissions often (but not always) mean positive effects on other sustainability indicators.

What is the problem with greenhouse gas emissions?

Greenhouse gases are responsible for the greenhouse effect, which at a suitable level ensures a stable and pleasant climate on earth. Natural processes both emit and absorb greenhouse gases, but these processes are very slow and in a vulnerable balance. When we emit large amounts of greenhouse gases in a short time through the use of fossil fuels, we disturb the balance, and get an unstable and inhospitable climate on the planet. Large areas will become uninhabitable and ecosystems will collapse. This is not sustainable.

What is a sustainable level of greenhouse gas emissions?

Sustainable development means development that satisfies the needs of the people living now, without destroying the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In order to achieve sustainable development in practice, it is not enough to go to zero emissions - we have already emitted too large amounts of greenhouse gases. To reverse the most severe climate change impacts, most of our products and services must become regenerative - they must absorb more greenhouse gases than they emit - within a few decades!

How are greenhouse gas emissions measured?

Greenhouse gas emissions are divided into direct and indirect emissions. Direct emissions are also called "scope 1" in various reporting systems and are relatively easy to measure. Indirect emissions include both "scope 2" and "scope 3" in reporting systems and cannot be measured directly, only estimated.

What are direct emissions?

Direct emissions are released by your actions; for example, the exhaust from a car you are driving. 

What are indirect emissions?

Most of the emissions from our personal lives are indirect, which means that the emissions occur before you buy or use anything. It may be through transportation, production or other support functions required to offer a good or service. Large indirect emissions originate, for example, from the production of electricity.

How are the countries of the world working to reduce their direct emissions?

Most countries have a good overview of direct emissions and report these through the UN system. Many countries have ambitious plans to reduce direct emissions, for example by electrifying the transport sector, building treatment plants and even relocating industry abroad. Direct emissions are to a small extent affected by the country's own inhabitants.

How are the countries of the world working to reduce their indirect emissions?

The countries of the world have little overview of indirect emissions, little reporting and lack effective plans for how to reduce them. Indirect emissions are to a large degree affected by the country's own inhabitants - whether you buy quality products or shop cheap things that break quickly; how much meat you eat and how much food you throw away; whether you take the bus or drive every day. Your consumption and your habits make all the difference!

What is the problem with focusing on direct emissions?

Through international agreements, the countries of the world have set great ambitions to reduce direct emissions. The risk is that the measures taken in rich regions may be ineffective, and in some cases lead to an equivalent increase in emissions in regions where industry is growing rapidly. Especially if control and reporting systems are weak. This is why we must also set up consumption-based climate accounts, especially for rich regions.

What is the difference between consumption-based and production-based climate accounting?

In a consumption-based climate accounting, the indirect emissions associated with the production of goods and services are attributed to the person who buys the good or service. This is the opposite of production-based or regional climate accounting, where direct emissions are appropriated where they take place. 

For example, a factory that produces mobile phones in China will be entered into regional accounting in China, while from a consumption-based perspective, the person who buys the mobile phone will get all the emissions originating from its production. Consumption-based climate accounting gives power to the consumer. It is the ambition of Ducky Footprints to establish consumption-based climate accounts for the countries of the world.

What is a footprint and what does it have to do with emissions?

A footprint is a number that describes how much a person's lifestyle affects the planet. Ducky focuses on climate footprints, where we measure people's contributions to global warming. Other footprints, such as land use and water consumption, are also important when it comes to sustainability.

Climate footprint is the sum of direct and indirect emissions associated with a person - a personal and consumption-based climate account. You must first understand your own footprint in order to find out which climate measures you can do that might have a great effect.

How does Ducky calculate climate footprint?

There are many ways to calculate a climate footprint. In Ducky, we combine two methods to get the best possible control over the sum of emissions associated with a person: "bottom-up" and "top-down". By comparing the results from the two methods, we can uncover errors and omissions. This gives the most accurate results overall.

What does it mean that Ducky calculates footprints "bottom-up" and "top-down"

When it comes to food consumption, for example, a "bottom-up" method takes into account your food intake and the total emissions that come from the different food items that you eat. This is checked against an "top-down" method where we look at the emissions from total food consumption per country divided by the number of inhabitants. These two numbers should be very similar.

Why is the footprint on Ducky different from what I've seen before?

Since there is no industrial or academic standard for climate footprints, other calculations will vary from ours. The databases and the reference year of the data used in the calculations can also affect results. Fortunately the world is moving in the right direction and newer data often gives both higher precision and lower footprints.

What data sources does Ducky use to calculate footprints?

For the "bottom-up" calculation, we use a number of different life cycle analysis (LCA) databases, as some databases are better than others in specific areas. A complete overview can be found in the documentation for Ducky's products and services.

For the "top-down" calculation, we perform environmentally extended cross-sectional analysis using international trade databases. We use Eurostat for Europe rather than global databases, as the resolution is higher and updated more often.

How are footprint calculations used in Ducky?

Together with Tietoevry, we collect data from public registers and large companies that show actual consumption at the population level in a country. Calculations of total emissions from the country's economy are provided by Asplan Viak. This information is collected by Ducky to calculate a groundbreaking and accurate consumption-based climate account for countries.

On Ducky Footprints you can see the average footprint for residents calculated all the way down to the individual neighborhood. When we show the footprint of a person through the services of Ducky Insights, we use as our starting point a relevant regional average, with adjustments for the individual's lifestyle and habits. When we arrange Ducky Championship competitions, climate savings from the activities are based on the same calculations.

What is the footprint of an average Norwegian?

Please see the most up-to-date numbers on Ducky Footprints. An average Norwegian lives in a household consisting of two people and has a footprint of approximately 11 tonnes of kg CO₂e per year. Norwegians have the second highest consumption in Europe, only beaten by Luxembourg, and our footprint is therefore high compared to other countries.

How can Ducky calculate my footprint from the money I spend?

The footprint of the money you spend can, for example, be calculated in a banking app, by multiplying how much money you have spent in each category by the relevant CO₂e-factor. This service is delivered by Ducky Insights API.

Ducky has established average figures for footprints per consumption category and country. As an example, hairdressing falls under the category of "personal care". The amount of CO₂e emitted from a given amount spent on "personal care" varies from country to country. Most of our figures come from an analysis of the economy. In some categories, we have also used data from life cycle analyzes that provide greater accuracy.

How can I reduce my footprint?

There are many steps that you as an individual can take to reduce your footprint. Take a look at the tips in this article!

Why doesn’t Ducky offer carbon offsetting services?

There are many schemes where you can pay someone in exchange for promises of emission cuts. Documentation and regulation of such promises are generally lacking. Read more about carbon offsetting and renewable energy guarantees of origin.

Why do services (such as parking) also create emissions?

All companies have their direct and indirect emissions. For example, they buy electricity for their premises, materials to make their products, and transport the materials. In addition, they buy services from other companies, such as courses, food for their employees and business trips. The sum of this is dedicated to the product or service that the company provides. This means that when you pay for parking, you are buying a small chunk of what it costs to run a business that offers parking spaces.

What is (climate) nudging?

Nudging can be thought of as pushing someone gently in a certain direction. It is about changing people's behavior - without taking away from them the freedom of choice. Climate nudging means making people aware of how small and large everyday activities affect their own climate footprint, making such choices easy and default, and providing tips, advice and guidance on changes you can make to reduce your personal footprint.