By Jesse Wood & Jillian Randel
As consumers, all humans produce a carbon footprint — a measure of our impact on the earth’s resources. Home energy use, transportation, food and goods and services are part of everyday life, but each of these needs leaves their mark on the world’s forests, oceans and air.
There are plenty of easy and relatively inexpensive ways to soften our impact on the environment. A little bit of effort conserves a surprising amount of energy, which, in turn saves money and lowers our carbon footprint.
Problem: Gas prices are rising. We continue to grow more dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels, and are unable to prevent devastating oil spills. Yet, we all have to drive, and unless we live a few blocks away from our destination, it is not always practical to walk or bike to where we need to be.
Solution: Consider a fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicle. Carpool and consolidate household trips into town. Visit fueleconomy.gov to track, calculate and compare your vehicles fuel economy.
Bonus Round: If you bought a Hybrid or Diesel, Alternative Fuel, or a Plug-in/Battery Electric Vehicle in 2010, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit:
Hybrid or Diesel – up to $3,400
Alternative Fuel Vehicle – up to 4,000
Plug-in Hybrid or Battery Electric Vehicle – up to $7,500
More Info: afdc.energy.gov/afdc/laws.
Problem: According to National Sustainable Agriculture Informational Services, “The vast majority of energy (around 80%) used in the U.S. food system goes to processing, packaging, transporting, storing, and preparing food. Produce in the U.S. travels on average 1,300 – 2,000 miles from farm to consumer.”
Solution: Eat a combination of local, organic and in-season foods. Shop at your farmers market during summers, choose foods with less packaging and try to reduce your meat consumption. Check out localharvest.org/ to find locally grown food near you.
Bonus Round: If you are interested in comparing the amount of carbon your food choices emit, check out eatlowcarbon.org.
Problem: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2009, Americans produced about 243 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste, or about 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day.
Solution: Americans can reduce their consumption in small ways. Replace items only when you really need to. Recycle paper, glass, aluminum, electronics and plastic. Compost food waste for the garden and look for recycled products, particularly those labeled “post-consumer waste.”
Bonus Round: Visit myfootprint.org for an interactive way to track your own ecological footprint.
Problem: According to Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon Free Home, some of the biggest energy wasters are TVs, computers, electric dryers, refrigerators and lighting.
Solution: Using a power strip or motion-activated outlet to regulate appliances can often reduce their power consumption by three-quarters.
Problem: According to the Consumer Energy Center, twenty-year-old refrigerators are among the most inefficient household appliances.
Solution: Look for the Energy Star label, which uses 60% less energy. As electricity prices rise, these appliances will pay for themselves. One of Hren’s favorite carbon-free home solutions is drying clothes the old-fashioned way – on a clothesline.
Bonus Round: Incandescent lights put 95% of their energy into heat and only 5% into lighting. Try Compact Fluorescent bulbs, which are at least 75% more efficient.
Problem: Homes consume large quantities of energy, and inefficiencies often go unnoticed.
Solution: Weatherization is a simple and cost-effective way to increase your home’s efficiency. Caulking, weather strips and storm windows eliminate drafts during hot and cold temperatures. Consider double-pane windows and make sure your walls and ceilings are insulated.
If you are building a house, check out green design features such as passive solar heating, a rainwater catchment and recycled materials. Also, look for lumber that is sustainably forested.
And if you think solar panels and other renewable systems are right for your home and budget, go for it! There are plenty of tax credits for home owners, who install renewable energy systems in their homes.
Bonus Round: In North Carolina, if you install solar panels or a wind turbine on your land, you are eligible for a 35% state tax credit up to $10,500 per installation. If you install a solar water heating system, you can receive up to $1,400 per installation. On top of that, there are federal incentives available too. Plus, you can sell any excess energy you produce back to the utility grid.
Check out dsireusa.org for federal and state tax incentives for renewable energy systems.
Our world governments have as much, if not more, responsibility for helping to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Although carbon-reducing legislation will likely receive less favor in the new U.S. congress, the current administration has in the past two years (and continues to announce new measures) made efforts to reduce emissions.
Recovery Act Investments in Clean Energy: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included more than $80 billion in the generation of renewable energy sources, expanding manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology, advancing vehicle and fuel technologies and building a bigger, better, smarter electric grid — all while creating new, sustainable jobs.
Appliance Efficiency Standards: The Administration has established more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential appliances, including microwaves, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, light bulbs and other common appliances.
Leadership in Sustainability: President Obama signed an Executive Order on Federal Sustainability, committing the Federal Government to lead by example and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020, increase energy efficiency and reduce fleet petroleum consumption.
Efficiency Standards for Cars and Trucks: In May 2009, President Obama announced the first-ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks. In May 2010, President Obama created the first-ever efficiency and emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty cars and trucks.
Making Homes More Energy Efficient: Recovery Through Retrofit will eliminate key barriers in the home retrofit industry by providing consumers with access to straightforward information about their home’s energy use, promoting innovative financing options to reduce upfront costs and developing national standards to ensure that workers are qualified and consumers benefit from home retrofits.