AQA GCSE Chemistry

Revision Notes

9.2.4 The Carbon Footprint & Its Reduction

Life Cycle Assessment

  • A life cycle assessment or LCA is a technique used to assess the environmental impact associated with all the stages in the life cycle of a product, a service or an event
    • This could be something like a personal computer, a car, or a wedding
  • An LCA will consider activities such as the extraction of a raw material, how a product is manufactured and distributed and finally how it is disposed of at the end of its useful life
  • This is sometimes referred to as cradle-to grave or more recently as cradle-to-cradle analysis as recycling of materials becomes a normal part of sustainable practices
  • This is not an easy task as there are so many different factors to consider – for example, you would have to count the emissions released as a result of sourcing all the parts of the final production version of a PC
  • One way to quantify emissions is in terms of a carbon footprint, that is, the amount of carbon dioxide generated by an activity
  • Obtaining precise measurements of a carbon footprint is challenging, but the act of assessment raises awareness of climate change impacts and encourages individuals and policymakers to look for alternatives or ways of reducing carbon footprints

Ways of Reducing the Carbon Footprint

  • CO2 emissions can be reduced by using renewable energy supplies such as solar or wind energy instead of burning fossil fuels
  • Governments and global organisations are slowly switching to greener and sustainable sources of energy and often offer financial incentives to companies in an effort to convince them to “go green”
  • Apart from using renewable energy sources other ways individuals can reduce their carbon footprint include:
    • Cutting out unnecessary journeys
    • Using public transport rather than private cars
    • Reducing consumption of meat
    • Buying locally sourced foods to reduce food miles (the distance food travels from production to consumption)
    • Carbon off-setting: paying for reforestation projects to compensate for carbon emissions from flying for example
    • Switching to electric vehicles
    • Recycling and re-using materials
  • On an industrial scale, governments are increasingly investing in carbon capture schemes
    • Carbon capture refers to a range of technologies used to trap atmospheric carbon dioxide from power generation and other industries
    • The carbon dioxide is stored deep underground in porous rocks from which oil and gas has been extracted
    • The logic here is restore the balance in the carbon cycle, by locking up carbon in the Earth’s crust where it was previously stored as fossil fuels

Difficulties to Overcome

  • There is still a lot of work to be done to make significant reductions. Amongst others, the following obstacles to progress exist:
    • Alternative technologies are still in their infancy
    • Governments tend to be slow to act on these issues as they fear a negative impact on their economies
    • On an individual level there is also resistance as it is difficult to convince people to change their ways
    • There is a lack of investment schemes for companies to help them to modernize their facilities
  • Ultimately, many people believe that reducing the global carbon footprint will be too expensive and not enough to tackle climate change, so that climate mitigation strategies should be adopted hand in hand with carbon footprint reduction
  • Climate mitigation refers to adapting to a changing climate rather than trying to change the climate, for instance:
    • Changing the type of crops grown in different regions
    • Investing in flood defence systems or building houses on stilts
    • Changing building infrastructure to make it more resistant to extreme weather
    • Repurposing land vulnerable to flooding
    • Using heat sinks to make buildings more efficient
  • These are challenging issues, but humans are resilient and there is every reason to believe that change can and will happen, but it may be a bumpy road ahead

Exam Tip

You should be able to discuss a range of actions that can be taken to reduce carbon emissions, but also why those actions may be limited.

Author: Francesca

Fran has taught A level Chemistry in the UK for over 10 years. As head of science, she used her passion for education to drive improvement for staff and students, supporting them to achieve their full potential. Fran has also co-written science textbooks and worked as an examiner for UK exam boards.

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