Individual and Collective Carbon Footprints

Published on 05.24.2017

10 min read

High School

The quantification of emissions has become a standard practice among private citizens and businesses alike, as well as communities of all kinds. The process has grown increasingly complex and is subject to international and national standards, which means that evaluators need to acquire greater expertise to carry out their assessments effectively.

Regardless of who instigates the assessment – an individual, a company, a local community or a public service – carbon footprinting only makes sense if it leads to concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the individual level, the French authorities have preferred to focus on public awareness campaigns that promote sustainable behavior, rather than provide basic tools that enable consumers to calculate how many metric tons of CO2 they emit. The most user-friendly and accurate calculator – despite the fact that it hasn’t been updated – continues to be the one developed by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the Nicolas Hulot Foundation in 2010, which covers all areas of everyday life (transportation, housing, food, home appliances and leisure)1. Since then, the Agency has concentrated on developing specific tools adapted to each sector and, above all, creating fact sheets devoted to best practices2.

After reaching this number of inhabitants, local communities are required to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions.

Collective Responsibilities

At the collective level, the law sets forth a number of rules, which are again designed to encourage responsible action.

Under France’s Grenelle II Act, certain entities are required to conduct a greenhouse gas emissions assessment, referred to as a regulatory GHG inventory, every three or four years. The entities include companies with over 500 employees, local communities with more than 50,000 inhabitants and public institutions with over 250 staff members.


Emissions are typically divided into three categories:
  • Direct greenhouse gas emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, and other resources.
  • Indirect energy-related emissions linked to consumption, heating and cooling.
  • Other indirect emissions, which cover a large volume of potential emissions and are often difficult to calculate. They primarily concern the upstream and downstream operations of a business activity. Upstream emissions are those related to the production and transportation of the various inputs required by a company or plant. Downstream emissions are those related to the shipment of products to customers, the  of the products and their end-of-life treatment. Obviously, production processes and their waste must also be taken into consideration, not to mention emissions associated with services and staff, such as the transportation of employees, customers and visitors to and from the workplace. This is what is meant by the “life cycle” concept, which serves as the basis for determining a product’s individual carbon footprint. The law recommends that organizations collect this data, but it isn’t mandatory.
CO2 emissions inventories are now subject to various national and international standards.

Various Standards and Associations

Emissions calculations are subject to both international standards (Greenhouse Gas Protocol – GHG3) and national standards. In France, ADEME has published a methodology for organizations to measure their greenhouse gas emissions called Bilan Carbone®. Protected by registered trademark, this tool provides a benchmark for all stakeholders who calculate their emissions. The procedure is today coordinated and promoted by Association Bilan Carbone (ABC)4. At end-2013, more than 8,000 entities had performed a Bilan Carbone® assessment.

    A number of tools and training programs are available. Some companies and communities have hired people who already have qualifications in this field. Dozens of service providers that are certified to perform GHG audits, and a number of associations, such as Réseau Action Climat (RAC)5, also provide support and promote methods for cutting emissions.


    1. See the Coach Carbone website (in French only)
    2. Visit some of the websites (in French only)
    3. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) defines global standards for measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Visit the website
    4. See the ABC website (in French only)
    5. See the RAC website (in French only)


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