My February 2020 Carbon Footprint

February was simultaneously a great and terrible month for my 2020 goal of reducing my carbon footprint to 10 tons of CO2.

The good: I kept my footprint about as small as I possibly can given my current lifestyle.

The bad: I learned that my energy utility doesn’t provide a renewable energy option, meaning I won’t be able to zero out the carbon footprint of my electricity usage. 😥

(March update: My energy utility does offer a program that allows me to purchase renewable energy certificates, aka RECs. After reading more about RECs I signed up for the program in March and have now zeroed out the carbon footprint of my electricity usage.)

The Numbers: My February 2020 Carbon Footprint in Detail

Note: These numbers are all estimates, and incomplete ones at that. Take them with a grain of salt. I’m not tracking my footprint to be exact, rather to become intimately familiar with what makes up my carbon footprint so I can better understand the changes we need to make at the personal and systemic levels to reduce emissions globally.

Total

My February 2020 Carbon Footprint
A screenshot from YNAB, a financial budgeting software I’m repurposing to track my carbon footprint.
  • February 2020 total: 1,270.78 lbs CO2e (33.3% reduction compared to January!)
  • Year-todate total: 3,175.95 lbs CO2e (15.9% of 10-ton allotment)

Remaining

I have about 8.5 tons left of my 10-ton carbon budget.
  • Remaining 2020 carbon budget of 10-ton allotment: 16,824.05 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-month allotment: 1,682.41 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-diem allotment: 54.98 lbs CO2e

By Category

Transportation (20.0%)

  • Driving: 254.38 lbs CO2e

Housing (27.4%)

  • Electricity: 273.89 lbs CO2e
  • Water: 56.63 lbs CO2e
  • Natural gas: 17.22 lbs CO2e

Food (27.1%)

  • Food: 344.0 lbs CO2e

Goods, Services, & Leisure (25.5%)

  • Furniture & appliances: 11.67 lbs CO2e
  • Personal care & cleaning: 18.33 lbs CO2e
  • Healthcare: 138.33 lbs CO2e
  • Information & communication: 23.0 lbs CO2e
  • Other services (e.g. car insurance, gym membership): 133.33 lbs CO2e

Analysis

My carbon footprint in February was about as low as I can hope for given the carbon-intensity of my local electricity grid, the house I live in, and my current lifestyle.

To reduce it much further I’d have to either suddenly have access to a renewable energy utility where I live (currently I don’t 😥) or make a large lifestyle change, like selling my car.

The good news is that, if I maintain this lifestyle through the end of the year, I should be able to keep my carbon footprint under 10 tons CO2.

Successes: What Went Well & Why

My February footprint was 33% lower than my January footprint.
  • I reduced my footprint by 33% compared to January. Yay! 🥳
  • I drove a lot less this month. I estimate that drove about 300 miles this month. For comparison, last year I averaged about 1000 miles per month.
  • I switched climbing gyms. My old gym was a 30-minute drive from my house. A single round trip emitted nearly 30 pounds of CO2. I go to the gym 2-3 times a week, so that could quickly add up. This was a hard lifestyle change for me because I liked my old gym a lot, but I’ve made the switch now.
  • I kept up a lot of low-carbon habits. I carpooled when possible, biked to my coworking space, ate mostly plant-based, and kept buying things used.

Challenges: What Didn’t Go Well & Why

  • I learned my energy utility doesn’t provide a renewable energy option. (They do let me purchase renewable energy certificates, aka RECs, but the more I read about RECs the less I’m convinced they actually do anything.) This was a difficult thing to realize. Now I’ll have a much harder time succeeding at this challenge. The carbon footprint of my electricity usage in February was nearly 300 lbs of CO2. Over the course of a year my electricity footprint could total nearly two tons. That’s two tons of CO2 I’d otherwise be able to wipe clean entirely.
  • Tracking has become tedious. Tracking my carbon footprint requires keeping daily records of what I ate and where I drove. Sometimes I forget to record my activities on a particular day and have trouble remembering come time to calculate emissions. I sometimes have to estimate what I ate or how far I drove on a particular day — just another example of why these numbers are far from exact!

Takeaways

3 Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Here are some tips I picked up in February:

  1. Buy used clothing with Poshmark. Poshmark is an app I learned about this month, and I’m already HOOKED. It’s an app for buying and selling used clothing, and it makes the entire process seamless. (Discover more apps for reducing your carbon footprint.)
  2. Cook with tofu! Plant-based foods have smaller carbon footprints than animal products. I’ve found tofu to be a plant-based protein source that’s fun to cook with.
  3. Use a good food carbon footprint calculator to estimate the carbon footprint of individual foods and meals. It will show you which of the foods you eat have the largest footprint.

Biggest Lesson Learned

This is far from a novel observation, but I find it important to remind myself of it from time to time:

Systemic change has a much greater impact than individual change.

No matter how much I want to, I can’t switch to renewable energy because my energy utility doesn’t offer the option. I’d have to make a large lifestyle change — moving somewhere where renewable energy is an option, for instance — in order to realize this goal. (I rent so installing solar panels isn’t possible.)

But if renewable energy became available, or the default, then my carbon footprint would drop significantly without me having to do anything. The same would go for everyone else in my community.

Individual change can inform and inspire. But it’s systemic change that scales.

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Alex Beale
Alex Beale
Hi, I'm Alex. I started Footprint Hero to help people reduce their environmental impact. My current obsession is DIY solar power projects, which I've been building since 2020.
Alex Beale

Alex Beale

Hi, I'm Alex. I started Footprint Hero to help people reduce their environmental impact. My current obsession is DIY solar power projects, which I've been building since 2020.

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