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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

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Schmit, Ashley, Carbon Footprint 9-26-2015

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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

  1. 1. What is a Carbon Footprint? How is the carbon footprint determined for a swine farm? Example screen from the NPB Pork Environmental Footprint Calculator So, why is it called a “carbon footprint” rather than a “greenhouse gas footprint?” In 2008, the National Pork Board (NPB) began an effort to define the total GHG emissions created from production to consumption of a 4 oz. serving of boneless pork based on on-farm and off-farm practices. The assessment included feed production, pig production, delivery of market hogs to the processor, processing of the animals, packaging, project distribution, retail, purchasing, and consumer preparation. The effort by the National Pork Board to understand and calculate the carbon footprint of a 4 oz. serving of boneless pork was not a simple undertaking. To read more about the data and process used for this analysis, you can visit http://tinyurl.com/porklca. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Each of these gases has a different potential for impacting global warming. For simplification, methane and nitrous oxide gases are typically converted to a “carbon dioxide equivalent,” or CO2e, based upon their global warming potential relative to the global warming potential of CO2. By converting all GHGs to the equivalent amount of global warming potential of CO2 they represent, the carbon footprint of different activities or processes can be compared based on a single metric. A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced for something as simple as a single activity, such as driving to and from work each week, or a series of activities related to a process, such as producing and selling a product. The larger the impact, the bigger the footprint. It is determined by assessing all activities related to the activity or process to determine the GHG emissions resulting from that activity. The sum of these individual GHG emissions then equals the total “carbon footprint” for that activity or process. Pork producers understand and appreciate their responsibility to protect and preserve natural resources. Obviously, many of the steps in the process of creating, purchasing, and preparing a 4 oz. portion of boneless pork occur after the pig leaves the farm gate. But calculating a farm’s carbon footprint can allow a producer to understand what practices on the farm contribute to the carbon footprint and what options exist for reducing the farm’s carbon footprint. For example, the CO2e emissions created from practices to control barn temperature could be impacted by improving barn insulation, servicing fans to improve efficiency, or repairing torn curtains. How can I use this information? NPB Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator The NPB Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator provides an estimate of carbon emissions based on data entered in the calculator. It cannot tell a producer the exact amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere for a farm, but it does provide an estimate from which improvements can be considered. Ashley Schmit, Animal Science Student, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Tia Muller, Agricultural Engineering Student, South Dakota State University, Abigail Repenning, Agricultural Engineering Student, South Dakota State University Amy Millmier Schmidt, Livestock Bioenvironmental Engineer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Erin Cortus, Agricultural Engineer, South Dakota State University Richard Stowell, Livestock Housing Engineer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Carbon Footprint for this farm Farm: Gestation Barn and Lagoon The Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator was developed with grant support (#2011-68002-30208) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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