Sizing up your carbon footprint

Find out how to lower your lifestyle’s ecological impact

The average carbon footprint leaves an impact of 567 kilograms of carbon emissions per month.
Image by: Harrison Smith
The average carbon footprint leaves an impact of 567 kilograms of carbon emissions per month.

A few years back, a man with a mild southern accent and an oversized black suit introduced himself as the once-almost president of the United States and presented the first picture ever taken of the Earth in an attempt to get the message out about the dangers of carbon dioxide. Today, Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth has grossed almost $50 million worldwide and Gore no longer has to worry about passing on the memo about global warming.

With a few calculations you can determine your carbon footprint—the impact you have on the environment—at the touch of a button.

Using a carbon footprint calculator you can find your own carbon footprint by piecing together indicators such as what kind of car you drive, how much electricity or heat you use and how many people live in your house. The less impact you have on the environment, the lower your score will be.

Calculating my own carbon footprint, I ended up with an average score for a typical North American. According to the Climate Crisis carbon calculator, using anywhere around 567 kilograms of carbon emissions per month is considered to be average.

Driving a 2001 Ford Focus, using no renewable energy and a few airplane flights, which have relatively high C02 emissions, all helped elevate my otherwise mild footprint to an average one.

Average may not sound like such a bad diagnosis, but it does mean I’m contributing to the growing global warming crisis.

To reduce that carbon footprint, the average person could reduce their emissions by 5443 kilograms a year by not driving; reduce all their home energy emissions by switching to carbon-neutral energy or reduce their emissions by anywhere from 0.39 pounds to 0.64 pounds per mile by not flying.

Sustainability co-ordinator Maryam Adrangi said your carbon footprint calculation has a lot to do with the products you buy and the foods you eat.

“Even if you aren’t travelling thousands of miles to get your grapes, those grapes are travelling.

“Try looking as those tags that say where your food is coming from and actually looking into the way things are produced,” she said.

Adrangi said we haven’t grown up in a way that makes us engaged with where products come from.

“The system is set up in a way that we’re detached from that,” she said.

Adrangi said we’re more likely to pick up on habits such as buying energy-saving light bulbs but there are plenty of other things we don’t even think about adding up in our carbon footprints. For instance, each person is contributing a what is called a phantom load of energy as long as their appliances are plugged in, even though they might be turned off.

“You can actually get a voltmeter and actually find out how much energy that is using,” she said.

Helen Joy, environmental consultant for Carbon Footprint, a British company which strives to educate the public and help them reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, said there are many common-sense behavioral changes students can make to reduce their carbon footprints.

“For instance, using public transport: by not using your car and using public transport, you are saving on both the fuel needed to run the vehicle as well as producing less carbon emissions,” she said. “Even better, if just getting around campus, you could walk or use a bike, which creates no emissions whatsoever. If you do need to use a car, try to run several errands in the same trip. A trip to the supermarket, library and mall can help cut down on numerous individual trips.” You should still follow the infamous three Rs you’ve been practising since kindergarten, reduce, reuse and recycle, along with using cold-water laundry cycles and reducing heating or air conditioning to significantly decrease your carbon footprint, Joy said.

It’s also important to switch off lights and electrical equipment when not in use.

“Electrical equipment still uses power when left on standby, so make sure you actually switch if off,” she said.

“Also change your light bulbs to energy-saving bulbs and pull out cell-phone chargers from the plug when they’ve finished charging—otherwise they will continue to use power.” Joy said personal actions can lead to influencing actions in business practices as well.

“Lifestyle choices can make a greater impact than that of your personal footprint. Should you and the rest of your university start trying to shop in a more eco-friendly manner, i.e. purchasing organic and packaging free products, ideally locally produced, you can have a demand impact on local stores encouraging them to make eco-friendly purchasing and procurement changes, which will in turn affect their suppliers,” she said.


—With files from Jill Buchner

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