What's the Best Carbon Calculator? (A Test of the Top Three)

Earlier this year we took a look at the top six ways to reduce your carbon footprint for 2020, but how do you know where you stand as an individual or household for your total carbon footprint? There are dozens of individual carbon calculators to choose from, wouldn't it be great if someone compared them all and highlighted the best ones? Well that's just what a team of researchers with a grant from the National Science Foundation looked at, with their results being published in April 2019. We tried the top three and picked our favorite...


How Many Calculators Were Compared?

The researchers looked at a total of 31 different calculators and compared them across 20 categories in major areas such as depth of inputs, depth of measurement, tool quality, and actionable takeaways. They also conducted user survey from 216 participants, which contained 32 questions about their experience of using each tool. Here were the top three scoring calculators...


The Top Three

The highest scoring calculators in the researchers analysis were:

  1. Carbon Independent - Carbon Independent appears to be the work of an individual and his collaborators. It was launched in 2007 and while easy to use because it's all on one page, the website and user interface is dated. This tool is also UK centered, in that when you get to the questions about air travel, you only have the option to select flights originating from the UK. This made it a poor choice for us specifically. 
  2. Carbon Footprint Ltd. - Carbon Footprint Ltd. is a company in the UK, but their calculator allows one to select any destination and arrival point when assessing air travel - although for our testing we found that it's better if you already know the airport code, as opposed to using their search. The calculator also allows for a deep amount of customization.
  3. Cool Climate Network - The Cool Climate Network is a NGO, with their calculator hosted at the University of California, Berkeley. This calculator had the newest interface and took advantage of more modern functionality, such as a dynamic snapshot of your results as you fill out the calculator. On really nice feature is on the final page where there's a list of actions you can take, along with how much they'd reduce your specific impact.  

Here are the heat-map scores from the top three from the researchers analysis (1). For context, the lowest score was 3.05 and average scoring calculators received a score around 12. 

heatmaps of top three calculators

Our Pick

Our favorite was the calculator from the Cool Climate Network.

We think it's the best carbon calculator for individuals and households in the US to use because it's the most engaging of the top scoring calculators. Why is that important? Let's face it, choosing to use a carbon calculator already requires a certain degree of dedication. You'll need to start figuring out how much you travel to work, how much kWh you use, how many trips you took, the current MPG of all household vehicles, etc. It really helps if the tool is easy to use and keeps you engaged to finish. 


(1) Mulrow, John, et al. “The State of Carbon Footprint Calculators: An Evaluation of Calculator Design and User Interaction Features.” Sustainable Production and Consumption, Elsevier, 10 Dec. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352550918303944#!


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