Thursday, October 15, 2009

21 Ways I Reduced My Carbon Footprint

Change takes time. Here below is the list of my path from what was not measured, but likely a typical carbon footprint (around 20 tons per year for an American) to a smaller carbon footprint today. I think I'm down to around 6 tons a year. Goal is about 2 tons per capita worldwide. Below is how I progressed over the last 20 years.

Today minus 20 years
1. Bought a fixer-upper house in dense urban area 5 blocks from subway.
2. Vacation locally (most of the time)
T- 18 years
3. Stopped eating meat (most of the time). Cook most meals from scratch.
T- 15 years
4. Enrolled children in local schools.
T- 14 years
5. Emphasis on Christmas & birthday presents that were consumable or practical.
T- 12 years
6. Installed automatic setback thermostat (55 degrees at night, 65 daytime). Knit a lot of sweaters for whole family.
T-10 years
7. Didn’t buy second car, used carsharing (Zipcar)
T- 9 years
8. Husband got a local job, now commutes by bicycle 100% of the time.
T- 8 years
9. Increase emphasis on second hand or hand-me-down for toys, books, clothes, bikes.
T- 7 years
10. Stopped eating fish (except sardines, I love them so).
T- 5 years
11. Kids stop asking to be driven to school on cold, wet or snowy days because answer is usually no.
T- 4 years
12. Switched all light bulbs to CFLS.
13. Turn temperature of water heater down to ‘warm’.
T- 3 years
14. More carpooling (GoLoco).
15. Greater commitment to biking for errands.
16. Finally put insulation in roof.
17. Wash laundry in cold water and dry clothes on line (my husband getting me over my greatest hypocrisy.) Reduced summer utility bill by 50%.
T- 2 years
18. Bought a farm share at local farm for produce.
19. Curiously also plant small kitchen garden.
20. Started driving the speed limit. On highways too (that’s right).
T- 1 year
21. Selected “green” supplier of grid electricity offered by our utility (wind farm in upstate NY, only 10% more expensive).
22. Replace inefficient appliances with way more efficient ones when they finally die. Front loading washing machine, dishwasher, refridgerator. Insulate and seal old house more, replace a few more old windows, solar hot water on roof, find or build more efficient housing.

This effort will be on-going. My biggest challenge, like environmental evangelists around me, is my air travel. I do a lot of it. I keep track using Dopplr, but I don’t believe in offsets (see CheatNeutral for a beautiful explanation of why).

What's your plan or path? What other good ideas?


dorothy said...

I got two Robin to add to your list:

1) composting; it cuts down on trash you put into the trash can and lowers overall "weight" of trash that the Cambridge DPW needs to deal with. And in terms of that kitchen garden, it is the best stuff you can give it!

2) if you don't have low flush toilets, fill up a mason jar (or two) with water and stick that in the water bowl behind the seat. Each time the toilet bowl fills, it will fill with that much less water.

Robin Chase said...

Dorothy, I forgot!

T-18 Compost all kitchen and yard waste.

Naomi said...

Robin--I love this list. Partly because it immediately lifted a lot of the guilt I feel about my daily life. Those of us who are "eco-aware," spend a lot of time being "eco-guilty," I think, but I'm already doing everything on your list! I didn't even think of most of those things as real carbon reduction techniques, so thank you for relieving a few tons of carbon weight from my shoulders.

I'd also add to the list something I don't think we talk about enough in this context: family planning.

While, of course, I think one should have as many children as one can love and support, I haven't yet produced any more people to create any more carbon.

No diapers, no juice boxes, no people to grow up and drive more cars or fly in more airplanes.

At some point, I may make one or two, but it is through thoughtful family planning and access to information (and means) that have allowed me to prevent the accidental or reckless pregnancies that for lots of others have produced more people on the planet.

Keeping families small means keeping families sustainable. I don't think we talk about this enough.

vhamer said...

Nice list. I've noticed that any of the bigger steps I've taken (using my bike as a real transportation vehicle, getting a farmshare) have also offered immense pleasure. Nice when things work together like that.

Brad said...

Sardines??? Yuck!
Cool bike!
Thanks for this list, Robin. It is very inspiring and I think it is great for people to see that the best type of change happens slowly and thoughtfully over time not necessarily overnight.
vhamer, I have also found great joy in the changes I have made in my quest of living deliberately.

"To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction." -Michael Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma