Definition: Carbon Equivalent

CO2 Equivalent

Definition: Carbon Equivalent

What Is CO2 Equivalent and Does It Matter to Your Business?

You hear a lot of confusing terms in the world of environmental responsibility. One of the most frequently misunderstood terms is “CO2 equivalent”. What does it mean and does it apply to your organization? To answer the second part of that question first, yes, it does apply to you.

CO2 equivalent is nothing more than a unit of measure that allows businesses, organizations and even national governments to quantify the emissions of other greenhouse gases. According to The Guardian, “The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming”. The point is to ensure that all gases can be measured equally in determining your carbon footprint.

What other greenhouse gases are there? While carbon dioxide certainly gets the most press, and is the single largest problem gas, there are many others. They include:

  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Ozone
  • CFCs
  • Water vapor

Why is there a need for a separate method of measurement? Why can’t the impact of these gases be measured directly and added to a carbon footprint? Simply put, each gas has a different capacity for increasing global warming, creating a very convoluted measurement system. Also, because carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas causing problems for the environment, but is the largest factor, it’s simpler to express the effect of other gases as if they were CO2.

The Guardian gives a very good example of how CO2 equivalent is used – the UK released 474 million tonnes of CO2 in 2009, but if you add in the CO2 equivalent of other greenhouse gases, that number actually rises to 566 million tonnes.

By using CO2e (CO2 equivalent), you’re able to accurately determine the actual environmental impact of your organization.



Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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