Sustainability Column: Carbon Footprints and Why They Matter

Your carbon footprint is higher than you think it is. But don’t despair—there are really simple steps you can take to bring it down. I took a few different tests to get a general idea of my personal carbon footprint to show you, loyal readers, what a sustainably minded person contributes to climate change. By comparing my contribution to the average American’s, hopefully you can get a better idea of your own carbon emissions.

Full disclosure—I live off-campus in an old, drafty, unsustainable house (thank you, cheap landlords) so my carbon footprint at Colgate is higher than it was when I lived at home with my energy efficient laundry machine and LED light bulbs. But I digress. It’s important to know your carbon footprint so you can be conscientious of what you are contributing and where that carbon is coming from. I used, and to calculate my footprint and the results were varied. 

Breaking it down by test, concluded that my four roommates and I collectively emit about 36,000 lbs of carbon each year from just our household activities. Our total carbon footprint, mainly because of the energy sucking house with out-of-date appliances, came out to be about 52,000 lbs per year (or 26 tons) which is better than 57 percent of the United States according to Myclimate. Myclimate was probably the most thorough of the tests because it took into account things like goods, services and recycling, which not all tests do. tells a different story and puts our household at a much more bearable 23,660 lbs per year compared to the average household in the U.S. which emits 42,000 lbs per year. Finally, puts me personally at 9,884 lbs per year with the local area average at 10,521 lbs per year.

What goes into these tests? Where did my numbers come from? One of the largest contributors to your carbon footprint is your travel. I live off campus so I drive every day. I’m from North Carolina so I drive 630 miles each way over breaks and I’ve only flown twice this year (to and from New York City). That brought my total to roughly 6,000 lbs of CO2 each year compared to an average American’s 32,000 lbs. Additionally, taking the bus (or the cruiser) will save 1,400 lbs a year and for every five MPG you improve your car’s efficiency by, you save 1,800 lbs.

The other major contributor to your carbon footprint is your house: the electricity, water and heat you use, what you eat, if you recycle and the insulation and envelope of your house are all factors that affect your footprint. I am a vegetarian which drastically lowers my carbon footprint. For every day of the week that you don’t eat red meat, you save 800 lbs of CO2 per day, and that’s just CO2. My house also recycles everything we can and I turn down the heat at night and during the day when we’re away to save on energy and oil.

Changes can be made to reduce your footprint, whether you live in dorms or off campus. Using a power strip for electronics and appliances, turning down the thermostat when you aren’t home, washing your clothes in cold water and instituting meatless Monday’s are all sustainable steps to take. The important first step, though, is to understand you personal carbon footprint and how your life- style has local and global impacts. Our generation must stop climate change. Saving the Earth starts with you and your lifestyle choices.

Contact Maggie Dunn at [email protected].