Sarah Lichtner

In a previous blog post, I discussed how combating climate change requires both individual engagement and collective action. Last week when I saw a study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley focused on household emissions, I saw an opportunity to assess my own carbon footprint while encouraging some of my Nexight Group coworkers to do the same.

The main conclusion of the University of California, Berkeley study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, was that where you live impacts your carbon footprint. City dwellers have a carbon footprint about half that of the national average while people living in surrounding suburbs may have a carbon footprint four times higher than their city counterparts.

As part of the study, the researchers produced a carbon calculator that can compare the emissions from one household to the average household emissions for that area based on average travel, home energy use, eating and purchasing habits, and the frequency of other services that contribute to carbon emissions. The calculator helps to make combating climate change relevant to the individual, highlighting the effects of daily decisions on carbon emissions and subsequently climate change.

A few of us at Nexight filled out the calculator to determine our household carbon footprints. Those of us who calculated our footprint learned that it was comparable or lower than the average household carbon footprint where we live. Here are some ways we reduce our carbon footprint:

  • Several of us live in households with a vegetarian or vegan, which drastically lowers our daily meat intake. According to a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, producing the average American annual beef diet yields as much greenhouse gases as driving 1,800 miles. Additionally, we often avoid snacks and soda, which further lowers our footprint by reducing emissions from production and transport.
  • Telecommuting, walking, biking, carpooling, and taking public transportation to work also reduces our footprint. For example, because Brad walks to work and doesn’t own a car, his transportation emissions are only about 0.5 tons CO2 per year, 94% lower than the average where he lives. Patrick’s transportation emissions are 48% lower than the average in his area because he typically takes the metro instead of driving.
  • Many of us also have lower than average carbon footprints because we do not spend a lot on goods or services.

Taking a closer look at our carbon footprint sparked a few of us to set some personal goals to further reduce our emissions, including the following:

  • Driving instead of flying and carpooling when possible on shorter trips. Every two-hour flight produces the same emissions as about one month of driving.
  • Continuing to compost coffee grinds, tea leaves, and  fruit and vegetable waste at the Nexight office
  • Lowering thermostat temperatures in winter and increasing the temperatures in summer, as well as installing programmable thermostats when possible. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting a thermostat at 68° when you’re home and awake in the winter and lowering the setting 10°F–15°F when sleeping or away from home. Consistently reducing temperatures over an eight hour period can reduce you bill by up to 1 percent for every degree decrease.
  • Further reducing the amount of meat we eat

While these seem like small changes, they can make a big impact. How does your household carbon footprint compare to the average for your zip code?