Reducing Your Personal Carbon footprint one step at a time

Many of us realize that if we are to make any progress in reducing our carbon footprint and energy use, it has to start at a personal level just like Ed Begely and Bill Nye did. It's really up to you and me to do something and certainly not the government or the politicians. The government is quite capable of getting it's own house in order. In fact, the Administration might take some cues from the three carbon calculators to determine their agency's carbon footprint and energy consumption and also two distinct paths to take to control them.

Obvious and Not So Obvious Energy and Carbon Sources
Most of us understand that fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, wood, oil, gasoline, diesel, and propane all play a part in things like flying, driving our cars and trucks to work, and lighting, heating and cooling our homes and work places and manufacturing products. The byproduct is CO2.

Other sources that contribute to our carbon footprint are:

  • What we eat,
  • How much stuff we own
  • Houses we build and
  • How many people we live with in our homes.

For example, it takes more energy to raise Black Angus cattle than to grow most grains, vegetables and fruit. So if you are a meat lover and you eat a nice steak everyday, then your energy consumption will be higher and so will your carbon footprint.

The same goes for the stuff we own. For example, if you are remodeling a home and choose a stove with oven and a tool collection the envy of Bob Villa, etc., then you'll use more energy. Sure the stove may be energy efficient, but it takes steel, aluminum, copper, plastics and energy to create and fabricate the final product. Also there's the energy to transport it to you.

Energy used to manufacture a stove
Last but not least, if you live all alone in a large house, your carbon footprint is much larger than if you had 3-4 people living with you. Same for the construction materials that you use in new construction and remodeling. For example, if your condominium was green like one in Boston's Southie and used recycled steel, your home's carbon footprint would be much lower than if you used new steel.

Carbon Footprint and Energy Calculators

We introduce you to three energy calculators to help you get a good idea of your energy consumption and carbon footprint. Each of the calculators has its own approach and most have the goal of helping you identify the areas that stand out so you can take steps to rein them in. If you are a road warrior, you'll find that that part of your carbon footprint might relatively high. We suggest you try all three calculators and factor in your family members as well to get an idea of your carbon footprint and how much energy you use. The three calculators are:

What to do with the Information?
The calculators send you down two paths. The first two calculate an annual amount of CO2 produced and recommend carbon offsets to mitigate and reduce CO2. You actually purchase a carbon offset and the money is used on projects that will reduce CO2. By the way, the most popular CO2 offset is wind energy.

Symbol of carbon footprintOffsets are nothing new. Years ago, many fossil and hydroelectric energy project developers used offsets (aka mitigation) when they they could not successfully reduce environmental impacts on site. So if the project was going to destroy 20 acres of wetlands, it would find another area and either promise to protect a similar amount or more wetlands and manage the area for wildlife purposes for a long time. 

Be Green gives you a general idea of your carbon footprint in four categories: vehicles, electricity, travel and natural gas. Values are calculated in tons of carbon and your profile is compared against a national profile. The website encourages reductions and carbon offsets to minimize your carbon footprint.

Terrapass was started by a University of Pennsylvania professor. It provides you with an estimate of your CO2 production annually and suggests a carbon offset to reduce that. In our case, we could offset 49,000 pounds of CO2 annually for about $292. The carbon offset from TerraPass, supports clean energy and other projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our offset portfolio would consist of a mix of clean energy, farm power and landfill gas capture.

Wattzon takes an entirely different approach and uses additional categories like food and stuff we own to calculate energy used instead of a carbon footprint. Instead of a CO2 calculation, it uses watts to measure the rate you use energy. The focus is on the individual taking responsibility for reducing carbon and not the government or other well meaning  organization. The site enables you to compare your consumption with other members and also has a pretty cool database that show watts of stuff we commonly buy.

Instead of counting carbon, Wattzon thinks it's more practical to consider how much energy we use under various categories like flying, commuting, housing, food and the stuff we own. By cutting back on how much energy we use can also reduce our carbon footprints. Once we know our energy consumption, it becomes much easier to identify things to do to reduce it and to measure the impacts of those measures on overall energy consumption.

What approach is right for your family and company?
Using any of the calculators will move the ball forward. The most important thing is to stop talking about it and start taking action. Some people may think that carbon offsets are easy to do. They definitely are, but they don't really produce the changes needed to transform our economy. Personally I agree with that, but I think it depends on where you live and whether you can actually afford to take on solar and wind energy projects yourself. You might do everything possible and then decide to do a carbon offset as a gift to someone who has not or can not.

Wattzon may be ideal for you if you like a very granular approach and the ability to work with other similar minded people in your local area. The most important thing though is to take stock of your situation and to spread the word to friends and family.

Companies and government agencies can also put the calculators to good use too. Reducing your company's and agency's carbon footprint, should be appealing since some of the steps will reduce energy costs and can be factored into new procurement of goods and services.

Any comments are always appreciated.