A deep dive into Klima’s carbon calculator
Here's how we measure your carbon footprint to help you achieve the biggest climate impact.
Climate change can be an overwhelming topic to deal with, and can lead to real feelings of hope- and helplessness. So what’s the best tool to turn these feelings into agency? Knowledge. Being aware of your carbon impact and learning what you can do about it is the cornerstone for climate action. And that's why we at Klima are so big on climate literacy — and why you’ll find our carbon calculator at the very start of your Klima experience.
But how does Klima’s carbon calculator work in the first place? And what is it really for?
The first step: understanding your country’s emissions
Let’s start from the very beginning of your Klima experience. The first question we ask you once you’ve downloaded the Klima app is your country of residence. That’s because your emissions can widely vary depending on where you live. Think of your country’s electricity grid, energy sources used for transportation, or agricultural policies that affect the food on your table.
As you may know, country averages may differ from calculator to calculator, and that’s mainly for three reasons. The first is data sources: which database the calculator uses to determine countries’ emissions. At Klima, we use data from the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), as it's the most comprehensive emissions database out there and allows for cross-country comparability.
Secondly, carbon footprints will be higher if all greenhouse gas emissions— and not only CO2 — are included in the calculation. At Klima, we include all greenhouse gasses in our calculations as this gives our users the most accurate and comprehensive estimation of their personal emissions. This is also why we always talk about CO2e, aka carbon dioxide equivalent.
Last but not least, country data can change depending on whether emissions are calculated on a consumption or production basis. Production-based carbon accounting doesn’t include emissions created through import and export of goods and services.
Consumption-based emissions, on the other hand, reflect the consumption and lifestyle choices we make everyday, like the food we eat, how we move around, or where we shop. At Klima, we rely on consumption-based calculations, so that we can better attribute impact at the consumer level.
Once you select your country of residence, you’ll be asked about key lifestyle choices across five categories: mobility, transport, diet, consumption, and housing. This is where you can really see where the bulk of your emissions occur, and learn about the most effective measures to reduce them.
First get the gist, then dig deeper
Our mission is to remove entry barriers to climate action by making our calculator simple, accessible, and fun to use for the widest audience possible. And so far, it’s worked! 95% of people that downloaded Klima completed the whole questionnaire — which helped them identify their biggest emission drivers and learn about actionable and meaningful measures to reduce their emissions.
But the journey doesn’t end there. Once the bulk of your emissions has been calculated, you can fine-tune your carbon footprint with our advanced carbon calculator, where you’ll see 38 additional questions that will add real detail on specific topics you care about — from how many hours of video games you play, to how much dairy you eat in a week.
If, for example, you say your diet is vegetarian, it could mean that you eat dairy three times a day or hardly at all. Without further input, we’ll assume the dairy consumption of an average veggie diet. By digging deeper into your carbon footprint, you can specify this and other aspects, creating a higher-resolution result.
Once you’ve completed your calculation with the advanced calculator, your total footprint will increase or decrease as you add more detail — sometimes in not so obvious ways! Here’s an example: if you live in Germany, green energy is actually slightly more climate-friendly than installing your own solar panels. That’s because the emissions that arise during the manufacturing of solar panels increase the overall footprint of a solar energy system.
On the other hand, the German green electricity mix comes with a large share of wind energy, which has a significantly lower footprint per kWh (4 grams of CO2) compared to solar energy systems (33 grams of CO2). However, don’t let this put you off your solar panel plans, as any investment in green energy is always a good investment for the future of the planet.
An important distinction: calculate vs estimate
All carbon calculators are based on scientific findings that rely on physical measurements and scientifically sound data. Our advanced calculator is designed by our partners at ESU-services in Switzerland, a team of environmental engineers led by Dr. Niels Jungbluth, using the latest data models.
Data models is an important term to remember here. No matter which calculator you’re using, your carbon footprint is always based on averages and statistics — which means that no matter how many areas of your life a carbon calculator will question you about, the final result will never be an exact calculation, but a sound, best estimate. To quote Mike Berners-Lee from his book “The Carbon Footprint of Everything”, “when you see 6.6kg CO2e for a cheeseburger, it really means probably between 3 and 10kg of CO2e.”
Take the emissions of your clothes as an example. Unless we spend 15 minutes asking you how many types of textiles you have, where, how, and with which raw material they were produced, how they were transported, how long you’ll wear them, how you wash them, or how you’ll dispose of them, we’ll need to rely on estimates.
Lifestyles and consumer choices are complex and can be extremely varied. But sometimes, less is more: there’s no need to know every little detail about your lifestyle to cut your carbon footprint. That’s because some lifestyle changes matter much more than others, and those are the aspects we should really focus on.
So, what should a carbon calculator be used for?
Carbon calculators should help you get you in the right state of alert about your climate impact and guide you towards those lifestyle changes that really make a difference. In other words, although it’s great to know how much CO2e your dog’s treats generate, or how much energy you need to play video games for three hours, it's more important to realize that flying, owning a car or eating beef three times a week are much higher emitters, and try to change these habits if you can.
While we should all do everything we can to lower our personal CO2e emissions (and that can also include buying more climate-friendly dog treats, of course), we should focus on those actions that create the biggest value. So, once you find out that lots of shopping significantly increases your footprint — no matter the price or where you shopped — there’s no point in looking up every fabric label in your wardrobe.
Ultimately, learning about your footprint should be an incentive to reflect on your habits and take action on them. The climate change discourse is already riddled with empty promises. As individuals, we have the power to focus on what really matters to create the biggest and most immediate impact possible on our lives and the planet.