Many people are concerned about climate change. In fact, 80% of people in a recent Pew Research survey said that they’d be willing to make changes in the ways they live and work to help reduce the effects of global climate change.
What changes can you make? Start by estimating your “carbon footprint,” and then figure out how to reduce it. Carbon reduction on an individual level may seem insignificant, but your efforts, when combined with those of like-minded people, can have a big impact. “By making small changes to our actions, like eating less meat, taking fewer connecting flights and line drying our clothes, we can start making a big difference,” says The Nature Conservancy, a large environmental protection organization.
Calculating Your Footprint
Estimating your carbon footprint helps you focus on elements of your lifestyle that play the greatest role in pumping carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. A popular method for calculating carbon footprints was devised by Alexandra Shimo-Barry, author of the book The Environment Equation. This manual method requires the following nine steps:
1. Multiply your monthly electric bill by 105.
2. Multiply your monthly gas bill by 105.
3. Multiply your monthly oil bill by 113.
4. Multiply your total yearly mileage on your car by 0.79.
5. Multiply the number of flights you’ve taken in the past year (less than 4 hours) by 1,100.
6. Multiply the number of flights you’ve taken in the past year (4 hours or more) by 4,400.
7. Add 184 if you subscribe to a newspaper but don’t recycle it.
8. Add 166 if you don’t recycle aluminum and tin.
9. Add steps 1 through 8 together for your total carbon footprint.
The result is intended to represent the quantity of carbon (in tons) that your lifestyle emits in a year. A score of 16,000 pounds or less is considered below average. A score above 22,000 pounds is above average.
An easier alternative to determine your carbon footprint is to use one of many online calculators that crunch the numbers for you. For example, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International have calculators on their websites. There’s even a website — Footprint Hero — that offers its assessment of the best carbon footprint calculators. Some calculators factor in where you live to consider local variables. Others may ask your income level. Presumably a higher income correlates with higher rates of consumption of carbon-emitting products.
Once you understand the variables that factor into your carbon footprint score, you can plan to reduce it. Key areas to target include your:
- Typical mode of transportation,
- Home energy consumption,
- Diet, and
- Purchases of products and services.
For example, you may be able to lower your score by reducing your caloric intake or by changing from a gas-guzzling SUV to a smaller hybrid or electric vehicle. Some online calculators will estimate carbon emission reduction and dollar savings of taking particular steps.
Meanwhile, many smartphone apps, such as LiveGreen, Waze Carpool and PoshMark, can help you reduce your carbon footprint. These apps can help you find places to buy products (including used ones) with carbon-reducing impacts.
Is your carbon footprint above average or are you planning to engage in a high-emission activity (such as traveling long distance)? You can participate in certain activities or provide financial support to nonprofit organizations that engage in green activities to offset your carbon footprint.
For example, suppose you want to take a first-class flight to Paris this summer to visit friends, but you’re worried the trip will increase your carbon footprint score. To offset higher-than-normal carbon emissions, you could give money to a local tree-planting organization. Those trees can take carbon out of the atmosphere, thus helping to offset the amount emitted during your flight.
Green Is Good
Implementing proactive measures to lower your carbon footprint can give you an emotional high and a sense of social responsibility. You’ll feel better about yourself and the future of the planet. Plus, many carbon-reduction strategies — such as eating less meat and lowering your gas and power consumption — can save money.
However, some carbon-reduction strategies — such as purchasing a Tesla or replacing your home’s windows — may require an initial investment that you might not fully recoup with future energy savings. Your financial advisor can help you determine the financial implications of any actions you might take, including the payback period and any potential state and federal tax breaks.