What Goes Into Your Carbon Footprint?

What is a Carbon Footprint?

As the name implies, your regular activities (e.g., driving a car, using electricity, or eating), and the greenhouse gas emissions produced by doing them, make up your carbon footprint. Therefore, your household carbon footprint includes the emissions generated by everyone who lives in your home. Carbon footprints are typically not the same for two different people (or households), as a carbon footprint varies significantly based on factors such as geographic location, habit, and personal choices.

Why is Your Carbon Footprint Significant?

According to Nature.org, Americans have one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, averaging about 16 tons of emissions per person; the average across the remainder of the globe is closer to 4 tons. Greenhouse gases are a major concern when it comes to climate change and global warming, so we each must do what we can to reduce our carbon footprints.

Keep reading below to learn about what daily activities make the biggest impact on your carbon footprint and the simple actions you can take to keep your footprint in check.

Energy

In 2018, residential electricity use totaled 666.5 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide emissions, 10% of U.S. total emissions.

Space heating and cooling are expected to account for 44% of energy in U.S. homes this year. Cleaning out your filters regularly and using a programmable thermostat are two ways that you can ensure your system is running optimally and not using any unnecessary electricity.

In an average household, refrigerators require plenty of energy to function, so if/when you’re getting ready to upgrade your refrigerator, be sure to shop for an energy-efficient model.

Laundry, a seemingly harmless chore, is another large contributor to a household’s carbon footprint. You can reduce your GHG emissions by 70 pounds per year by switching to a cold-water cycle on your washing machine once per week.

Food

Worldwide, food accounts for 10–30% of a household’s carbon footprint and producing food accounts for 68% of total food emissions.

Food transportation accounts for 5% of total food emissions. Eliminating the transport of food for one year could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,000 miles. While eliminating the transport of food is unrealistic for most of us, one easy way to reduce your food miles is to shop for locally sourced food (i.e., animal products that are raised in/near where you live and produce that is grown nearby).

Due to methane released from manure and inefficient conversions of plant energy to animal energy, meat and other animal products generally have larger carbon footprints per calorie value. Therefore, one of the easiest things you can do to cut back on your emissions is to eat less meat or opt for less carbon-intensive meats, such as chicken. However, by eating meat-free just once per week, you could help save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles.

Transportation

In 2018, cars and light trucks contributed to 17% of the total GHG emissions in the United States, releasing 1.1 billion tons of CO2e.

The average car emits 0.78 pounds of CO2 for every mile driven. One way to help our planet is to opt for more sustainable modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling, carpooling, or taking public transportation. While public transportation is probably something you want to avoid right now due to COVID-19, the other options mentioned are all feasible and safe substitutes to driving alone.

Lowering your individual or household footprint certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But by making small modifications to your daily choices, such as driving less, conserving electricity, and washing your clothes in cold water, you and your family can help make a real difference. Stay tuned to our blog for more ideas on reducing your carbon footprint, along with other sustainability topics, energy-saving tips, and more!

Click here to calculate your household’s carbon footprint using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Footprint Calculator so you can know what areas you can improve on.

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