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So How Much is a Ton of CO2……….really?


So how much is one ton of CO2?

I just learned that there are 617 coal fired power plants in the US emitting  4,643,734 metric tons of CO2 (epa.gov) each. That’s 2.685 BILLION tons of CO2 emitted each and every year.

No one can picture what 1 ton of CO2 really looks like, even some of the most mathematically savvy environmentalists, so how do know to picture 2.685 billion tons. So with talks of energy audits and greenhouse gas inventories, how do we bring it all down to scale? How can we internalize how much almost 3 billion tons of CO2 is? I’m honestly not sure we ever really can. Its an astronomical number.

Unfortunately, unless we are able to understand and conceptualize the costs of our actions to the environment, sustainable practices won’t become habits. Doing a GHG inventory of your institution is a commendable and necessary step towards reducing the environmental impact of your campus but unless students, faculty and employees understand the true cost of their actions and choices, only so much can be accomplished.

So, just how much is 2.6 billion tons of CO2? According to the EPA, that’s the same as the annual energy use of 260 million homes (all the homes in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. It’s the same as the annual GHG emissions of 525 million passenger vehicles. It’s also the amount of carbon sequestered annually by 20 million acres of forest preserved from deforestation (epa.gov). These equivalents go a little way in helping understand the scales we’re talking about when we discuss “emissions.” They’re still large numbers but at least they’re familiar. Unlike carbon or other greenhouse gases, we can all picture a large number of houses, cars or trees.

Hopefully, most of youill never have to explain how much 2.6 billion tons of emissions are. But if you do need to illustrate how much, say, 70,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas is, here are some resource that might help.?




(c) 2009 Anthony R Stack

About the Author

Tony Stack is the Managing Director of BeyondFM. With over 25 years of facility management and real estate strategy and operations experience in the higher education and corporate world, Tony has worked with Facilities Leaders around the globe to develop business processes that position facilities groups as change leaders. He has been instrumental in the development of several large scale facilities strategies for Universities and Colleges based on demographic and economic change drivers and brings insight into the way technology and business process can be blended to enable and support change.

Tony is experienced in with multiple FM technologies (IWMS, CMMS, RRM) and their uses in a number of  industries.


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