Anyone who has the slightest interest in the environment, global warming, or green lifestyles has heard the phrase “carbon footprint.” But what exactly does that term mean? At a time when experts are saying that reducing our carbon footprint is essential to our continued survival on a clean livable planet, it is important to know exactly what it is that we are working toward and what we need to do to keep ourselves and our planet healthy.
A simple definition
The carbon footprint has been defined by the UK carbon trust as “the total set of greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person.” Breaking it down to its elements, we can further define exactly what that means.
Greenhouse gasses have received their name because of the effect that their production has on the atmosphere and the temperature of the planet. These gasses rise in the atmosphere and remain there. When the radiation of the sun penetrates our atmosphere, these gasses trap this radiation and keep it in the atmosphere. With the heat from the sun remaining in the clouds of these gasses, it does not dissipate and eventually the temperature of the atmosphere rises above previous levels, in essence raising the temperature of the whole planet. A plant greenhouse shows how this works. A glass structure covered with windows allows the warmth of the sun to enter, but not to escape. The temperature of the building becomes quite high, allowing plants to stay warm in colder weather. Clouds of greenhouse gasses act like those windows, trapping heat and not releasing it.
The problem with this phenomenon, called the Greenhouse Effect, is that the ecosystem of the planet requires the magnetic poles to be covered with ice. With the base temperature of our atmosphere rising due to greenhouse gasses, the ice on the poles begin to melt, causing oceans to rise, weather patterns to change, and any number of other effects that can detrimental to our safety and continued existence on this planet.
Greenhouse gasses are any of those gasses that remain in the atmosphere and trap radiation. They include water vapor, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), nitrous oxide, ozone and carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is the primary component of these greenhouse gasses and the one produced most aggressively by human beings. Every time we exhale, we create CO2, but also every time we burn coal or fossil fuel or discard a product that begins to break down in the atmosphere, we produce this gas. The amount of CO2 we create can be traced like a footprint in our path, and that is where we get the name and concept of a carbon footprint.
What is your carbon footprint?
There are two measurements of carbon footprints, primary and secondary. A person’s primary carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide they produce individually. This is how much you exhale, how much fossil fuel you use to drive your cars, trucks and machinery, or how much you produce heating and cooling your house or multiple houses. There’s more though; secondary carbon footprints add to your total footprint by adding the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the goods and services you use. If you dine at a restaurant, your carbon footprint would count the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted to create that meal, the energy used to cook and store the food, the fossil fuels used to transport the foods from their origins to your plate, the energy expended to create the tables, chairs, napkins, glasses, condiments and all the other niceties used to create your meal and serve it to you in a manner to create a pleasurable dining experience – so pretty much everything associated with that meal is accounted for in your secondary footprint.
As mentioned previously, carbon footprints are not only applied to individuals, but also to organizations, events, and products. Your place of business has its own individualized carbon footprint, made up of the needs of the company to do business, such as heating the physical locale, keeping the electricity going (electricity creates a carbon footprint due to the materials needed to create it), keeping supplies stocked, keeping transportation moving to and from the business, etc. If you work in any kind of manufacturing, the creation of the product also leaves a footprint. Even events such as a football game have their own carbon footprint, caused by the transportation and comfort of thousands of people converging on a single area and consuming food and drink, as well as souvenirs and other services. An individual product also has a unique carbon footprint. A fast food burger can be traced to the resources used to feed and raise the beef, those that are used to grow and create the bun and vegetables used, and even the energy to create the paper products to package the burger and the energy needed to dispose of the waste.
We all create a traceable carbon footprint in all the things we do and in all the things we use in our lives. Being aware of this footprint is one of the first steps to going green.
Of all the things we do in industrialized nations to create greenhouse gasses, the number one contributor to these noxious clouds has got to be transportation and fossil fuel usage. If you drive 10,000 miles a year in a non-hybrid vehicle, you are producing 4.77 cubic tons of greenhouse gasses per year. Considering that the goal for carbon emissions is 2 cubic tons per person yearly in order to reduce the global warming trend, the use of our vehicles to get from place to place is an important consideration for our role in creating a greener environment. Following are some tips to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuel usage and help the planet get back to its healthier state.
Don’t drive if you have an alternative
Every day the highways are full of cars that have a single driver. Look around you when you’re stopped in traffic on your way to work and you will see that this is true. Each of those huge, smoke belching hunks of metal sitting next to you in the street are there to get a single individual from one place to another. And while they are sitting there idling, they are filling the skies with carbon monoxide, CFCs, and toxic gasses that keep the sun’s rays from dissipating in our atmosphere. So what do we do about this? Simply don’t drive if you have another way to get where you’re going.
How far do you have to go? Can you walk? It’s healthier and it’s amazing how many people drive three blocks to get somewhere they need to be. Make walking to your destinations part of your regular exercise plan. If walking isn’t an option, how about riding a bike? Again, this is a healthy and minimal carbon emission producing activity.
Public transportation and carpooling are also great alternatives to driving yourself. Even though these still produce carbon emissions, by sharing them among a number of people you get the benefit of taking another vehicle (yours) off the road and share the pollution much more responsibly.
If you do need to drive, do so with more efficiency
Obviously, there are many reasons that giving up your vehicle may not be the perfect choice, as anyone who has ridden a bicycle in subzero temperatures can tell you. So, if you are going to drive a car, there are certain things you can do that will reduce your greenhouse emissions.
First, what kind of car do you drive? If you are in the process of getting a new car, the type you get will certainly make a difference in the emissions you produce. A hybrid vehicle will cut your pollution by a half to three quarters of a non-hybrid vehicle. An electric vehicle will, of course, do even better than that.
Certain adjustments you make to the car you are currently driving can also improve your gas efficiency. For instance, just getting a tune-up will help your engine run more efficiently. It seems sort of silly to mention it, but everyone makes this point: make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure for your car. It is remarkable how much difference this makes in fuel consumption.
Other things to keep in mind include keeping your car clean, inside and out. Remove unneeded items from the inside of your car. Replace your car’s dirty air filter. Drive the speed limit. Keep a steady pace of acceleration. If you’re going under 35 miles per hour, turn off the AC and open your windows (if you’re going over 35 MPH, the AC usage is offset by the gains in aerodynamics by keeping the windows closed.) Turn off the car instead of idling when you get the chance. All of these things will greatly increase your gas mileage and reduce your carbon footprint, as well as saving you money on expensive gas.
More alternatives to driving
If you’re going out shopping, here’s a great piece of advice. Don’t. Many products are available online, and most of them are at the same or lower price than purchasing at a store. So save the gas and order from the internet. Now, you may be wondering, if I order online, doesn’t that mean that a vehicle will have to bring the package to my door? Yes it does, certainly, but a vehicle would also have to be utilized to take the product to your local retailer, so the fuel used is pretty much a wash. By eliminating the middle man, you reduce the use of your own inefficient vehicle and replace it with delivery by a professionally maintained fleet vehicle set up for efficient delivery of your product. So you save on gas emissions and the planet saves by more efficient usage of fossil fuels. Plus, you can shop in your pajamas. How cool is that?
Shopping the classifieds has been around almost as long as we have and has often been a matter of personal taste. While many people take advantage of this type of commerce, others prefer to buy everything brand new from a retailer. It all comes down to what an individual prefers, but if you want to be a more environmentally conscious person, consider shopping the classifieds for what you need. Not only will you likely save a few bucks, you’ll keep more items out of the landfill. Remember, the green mantra is “reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Here are some tips for finding great deals in the classifieds, including what to look for and how to keep from getting ripped off.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Here is a great piece of advice which never grows old and applies to anything you buy, new or used, from the classified or from a store. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
We’ve all seen the ads. A desired item, a television set, a computer, jewelry for a price that is too good to be true. If you see a deal like this, take the extra step to do some checking. Is this a reliable source? If you’ve found the item in a newspaper, call the seller to see what extra charges may be involved. If purchasing online, make sure you’re buying from a reliable and reputable vendor. Do a search on the web and see what other buyers say about them. If there is an overwhelming amount of negative commentary, or possibly even worse, no information at all, realize there is a risk giving any sort of personal information to this seller. And if, at the end of your checking, you find that you simply don’t feel right about this seller, walk away from the deal. With your personal information, it is always better safe than sorry.
Tips for buying items online
With most newspapers online now, a lot of what we know as classified ads are now online. Millions of safe transactions are done every year on internet sites, and you can do this too, but remember to take a few safeguards to make certain you remain safe.
First, as mentioned above, check to see if you’re working with a reputable site. The importance of this cannot be understated. A quick internet search can tell you lots about the retailer you’re dealing with. While most large online retailers have reputations for honesty, they often don’t have used items for sale, which is what you’re probably looking for. Online exceptions to this include eBay, which has made its reputation on resold items, and Amazon, which offers new and used products. Amazon connects consumers with secondary resellers offering used items. Both of these major sites have safeguards in place to insure that the sellers they deal with are reputable.
However, for maximum green efficiency, the closer to local you are, the better. Check online for a reputable classifieds listing which can show you who in your area is offering used goods for sale. Websites such as www.craigslist.com also connect buyers with local sellers, but you have to be careful when using sites such as this. Use caution if going alone to purchase an item at someone’s house, and make sure to inspect it carefully before you purchase it.
Also, if you give your financial information to someone on the internet, you want to be sure that the information is secure and will not be taken and reused. Sites that offer payments through a third party pay site, such as PayPal, allow you to pay without having to divulge your personal information. Don’t give out your passwords to anyone. If you are emailed by a retailer to re-supply personal information, the best choice is to call the number on the original site to make sure you aren’t the victim of a phishing scam. And when you give information over the internet, make sure you are giving it on a secured site, noted by an “https:” prefix.
Finally, always keep your receipts and check your statements to protect your purchases and monitor your information.
How using the classified ads can help reduce your carbon footprint
Using the classified ads helps support one of the three primary tenets of the green movement – reuse – from the trinity of reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Modern consumerism has ingrained in us the habit of buying everything new and throwing away what we no longer need. For instance, imagine you are living in a house which needs a new stove. The person next to you has already acquired a new stove as part of a kitchen remodeling, but the old stove is still in perfect working order. In the most common cases, your neighbor puts his stove on the curb, where it is picked up and put in a landfill, while you go to the store and purchase a brand new stove. If you were to go to your neighbor and purchase that stove at the fraction of the cost of a new one, you would save the carbon emissions of a stove in the landfill and the emissions of creating the new stove at the store.
Of course, the chances of us needing a new stove at the time our neighbor is throwing one out are pretty slim, and that’s why we have classified ads. Next time you need to purchase an item, check in the newspaper or online to see if you can find a quality used one – you’ll be saving your pocketbook and doing the planet a favor at the same time!
We know that every individual, event, product, and organization has their own individual carbon footprint. Each of us effects our environment in direct and permanent ways. In order to stop the rise of greenhouse gasses and global warming, it’s a good idea that we all become aware of our impact and take steps to reduce or eliminate our carbon footprint. To do this, we need two things. We need to know how much impact we currently make, and then we need to take steps to reduce that impact by decreasing our production of greenhouse gasses.
Calculating our carbon footprints
Calculating your carbon footprint can be done a number of ways, and there are many different websites that can help you discover your personal carbon footprint. Basically, what you are doing is calculating how much carbon you are creating in metric tons, and the impact that you, as an individual, have on the environment.
The average carbon footprint worldwide is about four metric tons. However, as you move into the industrialized nations, people will typically have a much larger impact. The average footprint for a person living in the United States is 20.40 metric tons. Now here’s the trick. The goal to combat climate change is for the average carbon footprint worldwide to be two metric tons. This means the average American family would have to reduce their carbon footprint by 18 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
The factors that go into calculating one’s carbon footprint are the fuel you burn, the products you buy, and the vehicles you drive. If you own a home, how large is it? How much gas do you use to heat your home? How many electric items do you own and use? It you are living in a large, gas-heated house running multiple computers and using large televisions and stereo systems, you are using a lot of power and thereby creating a lot of CO2. The products you buy are just as important. Food products produced locally create a smaller carbon footprint as they require less energy to transport. Organically produced food also takes the carbon footprint down quite a lot, as waste products are recycled into the business, and the energy expended by larger food producing agencies is offset quite a bit by pushing that waste back into the production of the food. Fossil fuel burning vehicles leave perhaps the largest carbon footprints in our modern world, as the emissions from these vehicles spew massive amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Petroleum burning vehicles are probably the single largest factor in the discrepancies in greenhouse gas production between industrialized and non- industrialized nations. Other factors in the size of a carbon footprint are the types of energies you use and whether or not you purchase new or used items at all times.
Reducing your carbon footprint
While reducing your carbon footprint by eighteen metric tons of waste may seem impossible, it actually can be done. There are certain basic steps you can take to drop the amount of emissions you create by a substantial amount.
Let’s start with the food you consume. The most environmentally conscious ways involve moving away from mass produced agro-farming to locally produced organic foods. Perhaps one of the most environmentally conscious methods of food consumption is to produce whatever you can by yourself. To have a percentage of your food consumption produced in your own living area virtually eliminates the carbon cost of transporting this food. Plus, by planting vegetation yourself, you are increasing oxygen in the atmosphere and reducing carbon through photosynthesis. Beyond individual production, local organically produced food is the most environmentally conscious way to go. Lower transportation costs, less use of resources, and no toxic pesticides are the reasons to go this route. Another positive idea is to dine at local restaurants that use environmentally conscious methods of producing their own food and to exert pressure on non-conscious businesses to use more earth friendly methods.
Transportation is the next place to try to make a reduction in carbon emissions of greenhouse gasses. See if you can get where you need to go without using a car at all. Can you walk to work? If you can, it can keep you fit and reduce your transportation emissions to zero. Can you ride a bicycle? This is another transportation method that leaves no discernable carbon footprint. If those aren’t options, the next best method would be to use public transportation. By dividing the carbon emissions up by as many people as possible, you drop your own carbon footprint. If this is not practical or feasible, purchase a fuel efficient vehicle, such as an electric power bike or a hybrid car. These vehicles use fewer resources and create less waste.
Other things to consider in lessening carbon output include reducing printing out information when it can be transferred electronically; this can be done both at work and at home. Paper products use lots of resources and are oftentimes not needed. If you can use the internet to pay your bills, read your books and periodicals and send your letters, you reduce your carbon footprint significantly.
The goal of reducing the threat of greenhouse gasses means reducing our emissions down to 2 cubic tons per year. In the United States, the average yearly emissions are nearly twenty tons, so in order to reverse the effects of global warming, those of us living in the U.S. will have to reduce our carbon footprint by a whopping 90 percent. Yikes.
However, there are movements on the rise to reduce emissions on a global level, and for governments to require factories and businesses to reduce their greenhouse gasses. But if we are going to reduce by the amount we need to, it requires us all to work on a community level, to work among those we are close to and see every day. Here are some suggestions on how we can work within our communities to make ourselves greener and reach our ultimate goal of reducing our carbon footprints.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle
The watchwords of the green movement are reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing means to generally and specifically reduce the amount of resources you are using on a daily basis. Doing this on a community basis can take many forms. Setting up a ride share plan with your neighbors is a fine way to reduce the amount of gasoline you are all using. Even better is setting up a non-fuel burning transportation plan that would involve walking or bicycling to work. If you do not have public transportation service to your neighborhood, get together and petition the government in your area to extend those services to your community. Also, share resources whenever available. Gardening tools are some of the most easily shared items, for example. Instead of everyone in the area owning a chain saw, one single chain saw can easily be shared among a number of families.
Reuse is just what it sounds like – reusing items which can be utilized again and again. Start a freecycling organization in your neighborhood. Let your neighbors know what you are getting rid of so that it can be passed on to someone who needs it instead of being thrown away. Reusable resources can be traded among a group of people quite easily. You can also find ways to reuse many common household items, like plastic shopping bags or spray bottles from cleaning products.
Finally, recycling is for those things that cannot be reused and need to be thrown away. Anything that can be reprocessed into useable items and not thrown into a landfill helps reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses. Many governments now provide recycling services as part of trash pick-up. If not, this is an ideal community project where neighbors can pool their recyclables and transport them to a center.
As we all need to eat, one of the greatest impacts we have as a people is how we get the food that we eat. The more processed the food is and the farther from the consumer it is produced, the greater the detrimental effect it has on the environment. On the flip side of this, food produced locally and in organic ways has a positive impact. As a matter of fact, greater local vegetation actually reduces carbon dioxide emissions and produces oxygen.
Producing your own food is the ideal way for you to eat. However, the logistics of producing all your own food is pretty difficult. That’s why many communities have gone to a system of community gardening. Vegetables and fruit can be produced in a central location, with the work of the gardening divided upon among the participating parties, as well as the proceeds. This type of food production uses minimal fossil fuels to produce the food. Other community gardening projects can include composting, which turns your yard waste into a new, nutrient rich soil. As with many projects, this type of project is much easier when the work is shared among many hands.
Local businesses going green
Any local businesses in the community can be educated and helped to go green in a number ways. The use of cleaning products can be changed from using toxic chemicals to non-toxic organic cleaning supplies which are just as effective. Pest control is another service where local businesses can switch from toxic poisons to organic substances for pest management.
Local businesses can also be encouraged to create green facilities. The use of recycled materials can reduce costs and is very environmentally conscious. Paper usage can be converted to recycled materials and reduced by electronic storage. Businesses using fleets of vehicles can convert these fleets to biodiesel usage, substantially reducing emissions and production footprints.
Another way businesses (and communities) can be green is by converting to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and water. While individual conversions to these systems can be done, it is often more cost-effective to make these types of energy conversion projects, like wind farms or solar collectors, a community project where the resources can be shared and the cost defrayed among this new efficient green community.