Emission Factors and the Emissions Factor

Austin Whitman
February 13, 2024
Thousands of people around the world study emission factors full time, and their research improves the data so that we can better understand the impacts. We just finished updating the emission factor library in our measurement tools, an annual process that brings our datasets - tens of thousands of emission factors - up to date with the latest releases and scientific research. 

Everyone’s got an inner data wonk. We love to find and awaken them. We’re psyched when people geek out on carbon inventories or turn into newly minted climate analysts. Our tech tools power training courses for career-changers and turn them into carbon inventory sages.

When you start to obsess over the data, there’s something darkly fascinating about the relationship between human behavior and climate change. You start to understand how your decision to eat steak, not beans, could be directly linked to the wildfires and mudslides in the news.

Like all climate science, this connection is extremely complex. But the way we begin to understand it is through “emission factors” – the data linchpin between real world actions and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reports.

For just about any type of activity you can imagine, an emission factor will tell you the toll on the climate. Drive a mile in your SUV? Emission factors tell us you generated about a pound of GHGs. Eat a banana? A banana’s emissions are about one-half of its weight. A candy bar? Five times its weight. Running shoes? 20 times. Steak? 60 times. Trust us: once that inner data wonk is awake, emission factor equivalencies become addicting.

Of course, emission factors don’t just help us quantify the negative effects. We also use them to project how better choices create positive effects. If you’re eating a pound of steak per week, that’s about 1.5 tonnes of GHGs per year. Cut that back to a half a pound and you’re saving 0.75 tonnes. That’s a heck of a lot of carbon

Thousands of people around the world study emission factors full time, and their research improves the data so that we can better understand the impacts. We just finished updating the emission factor library in our measurement tools, an annual process that brings our datasets - tens of thousands of emission factors - up to date with the latest releases and scientific research. 

Over time, as humans replace more and more fossil fuel energy production with clean energy sources, and our farming techniques get more efficient and less harmful, we will see improvements in emission factors.

The dream is to reach a point where all of these numbers — representing everything we do and make — have trended down toward zero. But for now, we’ll keep making emissions data as accessible as possible to companies so that they can tell where the biggest climate impacts - and climate opportunities - can be found.

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About the Author

Austin Whitman
CEO, Change Climate

Austin Whitman is the CEO of The Change Climate Project. He started working on climate and clean energy 19 years ago and believes companies and individuals can make a huge difference for the climate if they're just shown how. When he's not engrossed in organization-building, he's probably with his family or being an amateur at one of his many hobbies.

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