Where and How? New Carbon Footprint Study Shows Location, Lifestyle Matter

carbon footprint chart, GHG emissions, household

You want to reduce  your “carbon footprint” as much as you can…You read all the magazine and internet tips for “going green”…You want to know if you are making any difference, or progress, at all…right? Problem is, you don’t know how to calculate what your total carbon footprint is

But that’s no longer an issue.  A recent data analysis  looking at household carbon footprints across the U.S. also allows you to calculate that carbon footprint of your home in a realistic and accurate manner and even compare your footprint with your neighbors’.

UC Berkeley Researchers Jones and Kammen, working at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) have conducted a landmark GHG emission analysis of U.S. households, and which also provides a tool for more effective consumer and governmental policy decision-making. The “tool” here is the “carbon calculator” made available for free on the Cool Climate Network website (link below).

After answer just a few simple questions, the calculator allows you to determine your household footprint, and, which are the most effective ways of reducing emissions and saving money in the process, based upon where you live and how you live — the two most important factors in determining you footprint.

One’s “carbon footprint” is an estimate of all the greenhouse gases released during the manufacturing/production, use and disposal of all products and services.

“In order to effectively assess and manage their climate impacts, individuals need information on the financial and greenhouse gas benefits of effective mitigation opportunities,” say the researchers.

In their analysis model, Jones and Kammen used several techniques for accounting of one’s  “consumption-based life cycle” to quantify the carbon footprints of typical U.S. households in 28 cities for 6 household sizes and 12 income brackets. The model includes emissions embodied in transportation, energy, water, waste, food, goods, and services.

The researchers also sought to quantify greenhouse gas and financial savings from “13 potential mitigation actions across all household types.”

Their model suggests that the size and composition of carbon footprints vary dramatically between geographic regions and within regions based on basic demographic characteristics.

As an example, an upper-income couple without any kids living in Seattle, Washington has approximately the same footprint as a middle-income, family of five living in suburban Richmond, Virginia. The difference between the two households is in the sources of the largest GHG contributions.

Due to their higher income status, the Seattle couple’s largest carbon contribution comes from motor vehicles and air travel, while electricity and food dominate the carbon contributions  from the Richmond family.

Overall, the study found that about one-third of GHG emissions come from transportation, slightly more than 20 percent come from household energy, and about 15 percent is due to food-associated costs. All other carbon contributions derive from goods, services, housing construction, water and waste (see chart at top of page).

The new analysis, Quantifying Carbon Footprint Reduction Opportunities for U.S. Households and Communities, was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Quoting from the paper abstract:

“Despite these differences, large cash-positive carbon footprint reductions are evident across all household types and locations; however, realizing this potential may require tailoring policies and programs to different population segments with very different carbon footprint profiles.”

Check out the Cool Climate Network’s ‘Carbon Calculator’; you can also create an account, join groups of similar households to compare and footprints and share GHG reduction strategies. There is even an on-line competition that encourages cities, counties, community groups and even businesses to compete with each other for the lowest carbon footprint.

Next for the CoolClimate Network (CCN, a RAEL project to analyze carbon footprints), is to establish a nation wide, laboratory of  hundreds of thousands of homes to determine the effectiveness of various, behavioral science-based programs.

The Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference, which is being coordinated in part by the UC Berkeley team, will be held in Washington, D.C., from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.

Chart: Jones, Kammen, on Environmental Science & Technology.

3 thoughts on “Where and How? New Carbon Footprint Study Shows Location, Lifestyle Matter”

  1. It amazes me whenever I travel to different countries and see they have no recycling programs for residential homes. I remember when I was in kindergarten, the city of Vancouver came by to teach us all about “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!”. And ever since then, we’ve been very conscious of minimizing our carbon footprint. I guess it’s better late than never in certain areas to start these types of programs. In Singapore, it pains me to see only the poor and elderly recycle as it’s the only way for them to make a living =(.

    1. Yes, some of the results are surprising. What this tool points out most of all is the great differentials between folks living in the developed world, and, the huge differential between most of those in the developed world and most everyone in the developing world…but with some countries and regions experiencing growth in their per capita carbon emissions as their economic status improves….this is where green innovation will, I believe, make the greatest difference (and must make the difference)…problem is: how to effectively encourage developing world citizens not to follow the consumptive patterns of the developed world (note: there is a growing sentiment in some countries that the push for alt. energy, green living and low-carbon consumerism is a “conspiracy” to “hold back” the developed world’s “progress” in catching up to the rest of us…convincing so many that this is not the case is going to be a great challenge)….

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