Calculation of your personal carbon footprint

Scott Giorgis
Department of Geological Sciences, SUNY Geneseo
Author Profile


This worksheet walks the students through the steps for calculating their personal carbon footprint. Additionally it helps them consider options for reducing their carbon footprint and the potential costs of those reductions.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This activity requires no background in geology. I have used it as a one day exercise in a Historical Geology class and as the basis for an evening program in one of our dorms.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Simple math (multiplication and division). I like to tell the students it requires "cell phone" style math skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

A stand alone exercise on a day where the campus is emphasizing environmental awareness (something like Earth Day).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

To make the students aware of how much energy they use and the atmospheric carbon emissions resulting from that that energy use

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical evaluation of the general idea of a carbon footprint and the potential solutions to our carbon dioxide problem

Other skills goals for this activity

To demonstrate to the students that they can evaluate and track their own energy use and carbon production using really, really simple math

Description of the activity/assignment

Prior to assigning this activity in lecture, students gather information about their personal energy consumption so that they can calculate their personal carbon footprint. Specifically they need to determine the gas mileage of their vehicle, the average number of miles they drive in a month, and bring to class an electric bill and a natural gas bill from their apartment. I provide the appropriate information for students living in dorms. Their task during the class period is to assemble this information and calculate how much carbon their activities are responsible for generating. Once this portion of the assignment is complete, they investigate options for reducing their carbon emissions and the costs of those options. The pros and cons of carbon-reduction strategies form the basis for the class discussion. Lastly, students are asked to brain storm a list of potential carbon sources that are not included in this simple exercise, such as the carbon required to make the things we buy (computers, edible dinosaurs, q-tips, etc.).

Determining whether students have met the goals

My assessment of this activity has been virtually non-existent. I have included simple questions on the following exam (e.g. what is a carbon credit?). I think there is an opportunity to include more thought-provoking questions as short answers on exams or as a take-home essays (such as to critically evaluate the concept of a carbon credit).

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials