Santa’s carbon footprint is excessive, according to UK academics

The United Bank of Carbon, a not-for-profit UK-based collaboration of businesses and environmental scientists that undertakes sustainable rainforest conservation projects for their value as carbon sinks, has published a report from the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment claiming that, this holiday season, Santa’s carbon footprint from the UK alone could be as high as 9 tonnes per stocking, 25% more than the average person in the UK emits in a whole year. Imagine how much higher his carbon footprint must be for Canada!

The report is based on assuming that Santa makes a single trip around the UK to deliver presents to all of the 7.7 million homes with just under two children per household, This would mean that he travels roughly 1.5 million km. If Santa’s greenhouse gas emissions are the same as aircraft freight, then bringing every child a stocking would emit 139 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 9 tonnes per stocking.

The report notes that if flying reindeer rather than a Rolls Royce jet engine do indeed power Santa’s sleigh, the situation could be even more worrying – the methane produced by the reindeer’s tailpipe emissions is over 20 times worse for climate than emissions of carbon dioxide. However, an environmentally-aware and technologically-savvy Santa may be able to capture some of the methane with specially designed reindeer backpacks and use it to aid sleigh flotation and, as a result, the academics are sticking with their 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per stocking estimate.

GallonDaily respectfully disagrees with the University of Leeds’ scientists. Santa is magic and. like most magic, there are no associated carbon emissions. In fact, Gallondaily confidently predicts that Santa’s travels are carbon neutral.

However, we do concur that the typical carbon footprint of manufacturing each gift is likely around 10kg, something that both Santa and gift givers would be well advised to consider when selecting Christmas gifts. Gifts with low materiality, such as theatre tickets, or gifts that contribute to carbon sinks, such as useful gardening gifts or durable wooden gifts, such as hockey sticks, can help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the holiday season.

However, this Santa story does illustrate a couple of messages that GallonDaily sees as important:

  • major carbon accounting organizations, such as United Bank of Carbon, are now beginning to use simplified, low cost, methods to approximate carbon footprints. This bodes well for increased use of carbon footprint measurement and comparison in 2014 and subsequently.
  • even such socially-protected images such as Santa Claus can now be subjected to implied criticism for their carbon emissions, suggesting that concern over climate change is now beginning to be as entrenched as Santa Claus. Hopefully, Canada’s leaders will take this into account not only in their 2013 Christmas gifting but also in their policy decisions in 2014 and beyond.

Happy Holidays and Happy Christmas to all our readers.


The report, which is well referenced and which contains much more useless data than reported here, is available at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s