“Santa Claus” and “carbon footprint” — it’s not often that you put these two together (if ever). Yet, as we’re all approaching Christmas, we couldn’t help but wonder: What is Santa’s carbon footprint?
Let’s face it: while Santa is generally perceived as “one of the good guys” who’s all about spreading jolly vibes, ho-ho-ho’s and gifts, he is, first and foremost, a businessman. He runs a toy factory. He employs a bazillion of elves, owns reindeers, and travels all over the world.
At Cooler Future, we suspected Santa was a massive carbon emitter — and rightfully so. In fact, we calculated Santa’s carbon footprint and discovered that he releases at least 5,298,390,387 metric tonnes of CO2e in just one night. That’s pretty much the same as 240,835 return flights from London to New Delhi. If that doesn’t call for an intervention, then we don’t know what does.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and see what can be done to end this Carbongeddon.
What is Santa’s carbon footprint?
How did we calculate Santa’s carbon footprint?
To put these numbers together, we relied on some of the prior scientific research, as well as our own calculations. Let’s start from the start.
Despite popular belief that Santa lives in the North Pole, he actually resides in the village of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. Research from Purdue University suggests that Santa needs to travel 160 million km, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Sun, in order to visit every kid in every home scattered around the globe.
Assuming that children go to bed at 8pm and wake up at 6am, this leaves Santa only 10 hours to deliver all the gifts. Luckily, due to the fact that Earth rotates, Santa buys himself 24 more hours, which leaves him with 34 hours in total.
To cover this distance in time, he’d need to travel at least 4,705,882km/h. Please note: we do not count the time he needs to get off the sleigh, slide through the chimney, place the gift under the Christmas tree, eat the cookie and leave. See this as a research limitation.
Gifts, weight of the sleigh, and the reindeer controversy
Next on the list: gifts. Now, there are about 2.2 billion children on Earth. Assuming that most children have been good this year, 2 billion of them will receive a gift. A perfect gift? A book, of course! As for the naughty kids, those who have misbehaved this year will receive a small lump of coal, per old Christmas tradition.
- Avg. weight for 1 hardcover book: 0.51kg
- 1 tiny lump of coal: 0.056kg
- Santa’s weight: 118kg (as reported here)
- The weight of the sleigh: 126kg (based on this approximate replica)
- Weight of all books: 1,020,000,000kg
- Weight of all coal: 11,200kg
Weight total: 1,020,011,444kg
Putting together the weight in total gives us 1,020,011,444kg or 1,020,011.444 tonnes.
Now, can reindeers, Santa’s preferred means of transportation, actually pull this off?
Santa officially claims to have only 9 reindeers: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph. This is what we're told, at least. Yet, this is what we know: apparently, one reindeer can pull no more than ca. 136kg on land. Of course, Santa’s reindeers have a magical ability to fly, so there’s less friction in the air. To be more or less realistic, let’s assume, then, that up in the air reindeers can pull 10x times more than on land, or 1360kg.
To pull this off (both literally and figuratively), Santa needs not 9 but 750,008 reindeers! A rather controversial amount. (And honestly, at this point we're very curious: Does Santa remember the names of all his reindeers? Is Rudolph still his favourite reindeers? So. Many. Questions.)
Santa’s carbon footprint
Now that we know the essential details, time to calculate the climate impact of it all.
Let’s start with the reindeers.
According to the University of Tromsø, 1 reindeer releases 30.1g of methane per day. For the duration of Santa’s entire trip (34 hours), that’s 42.6g of methane per one single reindeer, or 31,950,358.47kg of methane for the entire reindeer army. Since methane is 25 times more potent than CO2, this would leave us with 798,759kg of CO2e in total.
Related read: What is CO2e and how is it calculated?
We know that 1 average book accounts for 2.3kg of CO2e. And for 2 billion books? 4,600,000,000kg of CO2e.
But of course, gifts aren’t gifts if they’re not wrapped as gifts. Packaging accounts for a sizeable chunk of extra emissions.
Based on this source, the standard book dimensions are: 13.34cm (width) x 20.96cm (length) x 2.8cm (depth). Based on these dimensions, we calculated the surface area of each book and identified the cm2 of paper needed to wrap all books: 1,592,010,000,000cm2.
Now, how much would all that paper weigh?
Since a single A4 sheet of paper is 6237cm2, Santa would need a total of 255,252,525.3 A4 sheets of gift paper to wrap all his books. Reportedly, there are 200 A4 sheets in 1kg of paper, which leaves us with 1,276,262.626kg of paper overall.
As 1 kg of paper accounts for 120gr of CO2e, the carbon dioxide equivalent for all packaging is 153,151.5152kg — or 153 tonnes, more or less.
But what about coal?
According to this study, 0.8Mt of mined coal emits 12 Gg of methane. As Santa uses 11 tonnes of coal for punishments, to extract such amounts would generate 168 tonnes of methane (or about 4,200 tonnes of CO2e).
Last but not least: milk and cookies, left for Santa underneath the Christmas tree.
Dairy, as we know, is one of the biggest causes of emissions in the food industry (alongside meat). According to Oatly, 1 liter of milk accounts for 1.28kg of CO2e. Since there are about 4.2 cups in one liter, one cup of milk can be approximated to 0.32kg of COe.
And for two billion cups of milk? The number is a staggering 640,000,000kg of CO2e!
Finally, let’s talk cookies. We took low fat / low sugar biscuits, yet even those are emissions-heavy: 1,27kg CO2e per kg. There are more or less 28 biscuits in 1kg (we used this calculator), which makes it 0.04kg CO2e for a single biscuit. Altogether, this leaves us with 80,000,000kg of CO2e.
More food for thought:
There are, of course, more things to calculate when it comes to Santa’s carbon footprint. For example, how big is Santa’s toy factory, really? And what Scopes 1,2, and 3 of the toy factory's emissions? Does Santa store his toys in warehouses? Where are those warehouses? How much does he pay his elves and can we be sure Santa uses fair labour? Independent, high-quality research by experienced impact professionals is desperately needed here.
Can Santa be more climate friendly?
Yes, he can. But the truth is, everybody can be more climate friendly during Christmas too.
While we can blame it all on Santa, it is important to acknowledge our own responsibility in making Christmas one of the least climate-friendly festive seasons of the year. It is also the time of the year that generates the most waste (think of all the wrapping paper thrown away, that gift you got that nobody needed — the list can go on and on).
At the end of the day, just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean it’s okay to pollute the world. Remember the basic carbon management strategy: offset, replace, reduce, avoid. Opting for a recycled or upcycled gift, offsetting the flight you take to see your family for Christmas, re-using old wrapping paper, and, perhaps most importantly, not buying unnecessary things and giving in the shopping mania is the least we can all do to make sure the Earth can have a jolly time during Christmas too.