How do we reduce the carbon footprint of Icelanders?

The article was originally published (in Icelandic) by the Icelandic newspaper Kjarninn.

Mitigation measures of households

In a recent article by Jack Clarke, Jukka Heinonen and Juudit Ottelin [1], the carbon footprint of Iceland's consumerism is described and the virtual reality that is the environmentally friendly Iceland. The main pollutors are transport, production of imported food, goods and clothing. The mitigation measures for the Paris Agreement take on transport issues, but it does consider the impact of Icelanders consumption of imported products and the emissions originating in other countries with the manufacture and transport of products ending in Iceland.

The article states that the majority of the environmental burdens that Icelanders create through consumption on imported products are in fact in developing countries. Domestic households have the most impact on carbon footprint outside of transport [1]. But when compared to other European countries, the carbon footprint of food is similar, but it is the amount that is more in Iceland.

Picture 1: climate change per energy unit from around the world.

Other solutions are also mentioned in the article, e.g. to increase the consumption of food produced domestically and to implement policies for environmentally friendly food [1]. Increased consumption of domestic products does not only include food, but also fuels, clothes and other products.

The reason is that the greenhouse effect of each produced energy unit is low in Iceland compared to most countries from which we import these products from (see picture 1). If products consumed in Iceland can not be manufactured there, Iceland can assist those countries that it burdens with the production (and subsequent pollution) with positive investments in "green infrastructure" and development aid.

In this context, it is also worth noting that according to the book "Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming" [2], one of the things people and businesses can do to influence greenhouse gas emissions is to strengthen girls education in developing countries.

As the increased education of girls results in fewer and healthier children who can help counteract population growth. There are numerous organizations in Iceland and abroad which can be supported for this purpose by individuals and firms.

A simple equation is often put forward in the debate on climate change and what is needed to overcome that problem. It says; number of people, times service per person, times energy per service, times greenhouse gases per unit of energy equals total greenhouse gas emissions. It is interesting to look at this equation for Icelanders, but we are few.


The equation which is commonly associated with Bill Gates.

However, as mentioned above, both services to each person are high and potential energy for each service, which applies to both domestic energy and energy used to produce imported goods abroad.

But a relatively small amount of greenhouse gases is released in the production of each energy unit. That is, the energy used here in Iceland in the production of goods or services we consume, but not necessarily on imported goods, which account for about 60% of our carbon footprint through consumption according to OECD data [4].

Mitigation measures of businesses

As for households, considering not only direct business operations, but factors higher in their value chain (like the production of raw materials), the environmental impact is often considerably higher than expected at first. This is relevant to the country of production, as noted above, transportation routes, how the product is disposed of and more. Such knowledge is often not readily available, but few know the production of Icelandic companies better than the staff and the professionals within them.

There are many options available when companies look at the real extent of their business and how it affects the environment in this country and abroad. The Circular economy concept can be useful for companies because it can document and visualize waste of raw materials and resources, discover a new life for products and raw materials with reuse and recycle. Also, companies sometimes do not realize the value of waste, etc.

Wind turbines at dawn. GRADERT / UNSPLASH

External consultancy can therefore only assist in calculating such environmental impact, but it is only in close collaboration with those who know their operations best when realistic results materialize. Here you can not have one solution that suits everyone, as companies are diverse, and even differ from their closest competitors.

If the environmental impact of a company's business is known, a whole world of opportunities open up [5]. Access to markets with strict regulations opens up and the use of the new knowledge for marketing, to mention only a few. The most important thing is, however, that with such knowledge, companies can make a conscious decision on which actions should be taken to minimize their environmental impact, decisions based on a logical basis and a scientific approach [6].


[1] Clarke, J., Heinonen, J., & Ottelin, J. (2017). Emissions in a decarbonised economy? Global lessons from a carbon footprint analysis of Iceland. Journal of Cleaner Production, 166, 1175-1186.

[2] Hawken, P., 2017. Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.

[3] Climte for life;

[4] OECD inter country input-output tables (2016 edition);

[5] Nidumolu, R., Prahalad, C. K., & Rangaswami, M. R. (2009). Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation. Harvard business review, 87(9), 56-64.

[6] Circular Solutions. Consulting.