What is the Carbon Footprint of the President? 41,000 Tons!

  • Published on April 12th, 2009

A recent article at Green Inc. compared the carbon footprints of several European nations’ heads of state, with Britain’s Gordon Brown having the largest carbon footprint of the group (8400 tonnes in 2008). How does the President of the United States stack up against European leaders in this area?

Some attempts have been made to calculate the carbon footprint of President Obama’s inauguration. The inauguration had a MASSIVE footprint – over half a million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions! However, the President’s inauguration can basically be compared to a wedding or other one-time event. It is not indicative of a normal year-over-year carbon footprint caused by everyday living and business travel. There have been no apparent efforts to calculate the footprint of the President in an average year – this is a first attempt to provide an initial rough estimate. It is important to note that this carbon footprint is for the office of the President of the United States, not necessarily President Obama. For example, It could just as easily be applicable to former Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Due to the difficulty in obtaining specific data about the White House and the President’s travel detail, certain assumptions have been made which are documented after the main body of the article. These assumptions were kept conservative, yet realistic, and documented facts (such as airplane specifications and carbon emission factors) were used wherever possible.

An important consideration of a carbon footprint assessment is the boundaries – in other words ‘What is included?’ We have included the following items in the carbon footprint calculation:

  1. Airplane Travel (all flights associated with a Presidential trip, including official Air Force 1 and alternate Air Force 1, military cargo planes, and advance security missions)
  2. Helicopter Travel
  3. Automobile Travel
  4. White House electricity and natural gas use

We have not included the emissions related to: the Inauguration ceremony, maintenance of Camp David, maintenance of other personal property owned by the President, maintenance of the approximately 18 acres of White House grounds.

Using our set of assumptions*, the carbon footprint of the President is about 41,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. This is the equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of about 2200 American households. This also far exceeds the carbon footprint of any of the European leaders, largely due to the number of additional airplane trips that accompany the President when he travels to provide the necessary security for the Commander in Chief. This level of security far surpasses that of the President’s European counterparts. This includes a second Boeing 747-200B (identical to Air Force One) that serves as a backup and decoy to the official Air Force One. Also deployed are two C-17 Globemaster military cargo planes to move the helicopters and limousines that carry the President at his eventual destination. Finally, there are oftern a number of advance flights made by the military to perform security assessments at the destination before the President arrives.

This carbon footprint estimate is in no way meant to be a criticism of the President. The security of the President is the utmost concern when he travels, regardless of the amount of emissions that are generated to ensure his safety. This article is intended to provide some perspective as to where the Presidential carbon emissions come from. President Obama has received some criticism in the media for the temperature that he maintains in the Oval Office. Whether these concerns are valid or not, it is obvious that automobile use and White House emissions are only a small fraction of his carbon footprint. Given the huge proportion of air travel emissions in the President’s carbon footprint, this is the area with the largest potential for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Even modest improvements in areas such as logistical planning could reduce the President’s carbon footprint by a significant amount.

President Obama has emerged as a ‘green champion’ since he took office. His aggressive promotion of green energy will do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the massive carbon footprint that his office is responsible for. We recognize that with the need for security and the realities of his office it is inevitable that the President will have a very large carbon footprint. But is his office doing everything (within reason) that they can do to reduce his impact? It is more likely that the American people will act to reduce their own emissions if the President leads by example.


Air Travel
Amount Flown (for each plane in fleet): 100,397 miles per year or 202 hours of flight time (2 trips to Middle East, 1 to Far East Asia, 2 to Europe, 8 to west coast of North America, 16 within the Eastern time zone of North America)

Number of Planes Deployed per Presidential Trip: 8

Air Travel CO2 Emission Factor

Helicopter Travel
Hours of helicopter usage per year: 58
(30 minutes of helicopter use on each of the 29 Presidential trips multiplied by 4 to account for the number of helicopters used each time the President travels)
Fuel consumption data from Sikorsky S-76 model (Marine One is actually a Sikorsky Sea King)

Automobile Travel
Size of motorcade when President travels: 30
Annual distance driven per vehicle in motorcade (in miles): 3650 (10 miles/day)
Assumed fuel efficiency of vehicles in motorcade: 20 MPG
CO2 Emission Factor for Gasoline

White House Electricity and Energy Use:
Square Footage of the White House: 55000
Assumed Electricity Use per square foot: 15.5 kWh
Electricity Emission Factor: 0.62 kg CO2 / kWh
Assumed Natural Gas use per square foot: 0.27 therms
Natural Gas CO2 Emission Factor: 2.146 kg CO2 / cubic meter

Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that will bring a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers and provide consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.

About the Author

Steve Boles doles out thoughtful commentary about all the latest issues, news blips and misconceptions surrounding the growing green movement as a contributor to Red, White, and Blue and his personal blog The Buzz (http://thebuzz.kuzuka.com). Steve spent seven years working as a scientist at one of the world’s leading climate change research centers, the Institute for Earth Oceans and Space (EOS) at the University of New Hampshire. Steve recently moved his family to small-town Ontario, Canada. Steve and his wife, Jenni, recently co-founded a company called Kuzuka. Kuzuka is a marketplace for carbon offsets that will bring a whole new level of convenience and confidence to individuals and businesses choosing to offset their tread on this planet. Kuzuka also provides carbon management services to businesses that are interested in measuring and reducing their corporate carbon footprint.


  • Hello Steve

    When I read your piece on Presidential footprints, I was reminded of a business trip to Ottawa taken in the mid 1990s and coinciding with a visit to our Capital by Bill Clinton. As you know, the airspace within a few hundred miles of the airport is closed for a few hours around the President's time of arrival and departure and of course the roads anywhere near the Man's motorcade route are blocked. As you can imagine, flight schedules were completely thrown off and the traffic congestion was horrendous (Mr Clinton arrived during the morning rush hour and timed his departure to coincide with the evening rush)

    I did make it back to the airport in time to witnesses both Airforce 1 and the other Airforce 1 taxing in front of the terminal – hundreds of displaced and disrupted passengers gave the President a piece of their mind and a wave with an extended finger as he passed by.

    Perhaps you should attempt to quantify the carbon emitted by the thousands of motorists stuck in traffic jams caused by the Presidential passage and the amount of hot air emitted by people whose travel plans are disrupted during these "state" visits.

    Peter Boles

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