Estimating the carbon footprint of crime

July 11, 2016, University of Surrey

Policy makers currently examine the economic and social impacts of crime, but the environmental impacts have not, to date, been included. A new study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, estimates the carbon footprint of crime. The study was conducted by a UK-based research team led by an engineering doctorate student, Helen Skudder, in the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey.

The authors use a complex method of quantification—applying carbon emissions factors to the monetized costs of crime using environmentally-extended input-output analysis. This allowed them to estimate the carbon footprint of crime committed in England and Wales in 2011. They found it to be over 4 million metric tons CO2e, equivalent to the carbon emissions of around 900,000 UK homes.

Of the offence types considered, burglary resulted in the largest proportion of the total footprint (30%) due to large volume of offences and the carbon associated with replacing stolen or damaged goods. Criminal justice system services (policing, prisons and courts) also accounted for a large proportion of the total footprint (21% of all crime and 49% of police recorded offences).

The limitations to the findings are particularly interesting and predominantly result from the footprinting methodology. Although it is tempting to conclude from the research that crime reduction will automatically result in a reduction of carbon emissions, this is not necessarily the case, due to the rebound effect. That is, the study considered how money currently spent addressing crime might be spent in the absence of crime. By comparing the associated with this re-spending of the money with the of crime, it was found that the most likely rebound effect would be an increase in emissions of around 2%.

"Although there are limitations to the methodology" Skudder says, "We've highlighted some interesting findings, such as the large proportion of the footprint which arises due to burglaries. Looking at burglary in more detail, we find that emissions not only arise from policing and the criminal justice system response to crime, but also that the carbon arising due to replacement of stolen items is significant. The analysis illustrates the complex ways that institutions in society and the associated economic activity shape the impact we have on our climate. We have shown that it is possible to take into account the environmental implications of crime alongside the social and economic costs, as part of prevention policy appraisals".

Explore further: Experts examine the environmental impact of crime

More information: The article, "Addressing the Carbon-Crime Blind Spot: A Carbon Footprint Approach" is freely downloadable here: … 1111/jiec.12457/full

Related Stories

Consumers care about carbon footprint

February 26, 2016

How much do consumers care about the carbon footprint of the products they buy? Would they care more if the goods were labeled with emissions data? Does it matter at which stage in the lifecycle of a product the carbon is ...

Recommended for you

Sensual fresco discovered in ancient Pompeii bedroom

November 19, 2018

Archaeologists have found a fresco in an ancient Pompeii bedroom that depicts a sensual scene of the Roman god Jupiter, disguised as a swan, and a legendary queen of Sparta from Greek mythology.

Excavators find tombs buried in Bolivia 500 years ago

November 17, 2018

Archaeologists say they found tombs at a Bolivian quarry containing remains from more than 500 years ago that give an insight into the interaction of various peoples with the expanding Inca empire.

Preventing chemical weapons as sciences converge

November 15, 2018

Alarming examples of the dangers from chemical weapons have been seen recently in the use of industrial chemicals and the nerve agent sarin against civilians in Syria, and in the targeted assassination operations using VX ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.