My March 2020 Carbon Footprint

I thought my carbon footprint in February was as low as I could feasibly get it given my current lifestyle.

I was wrong.

The Numbers: My March 2020 Carbon Footprint in Detail

Note: These numbers are all estimates, and incomplete ones at that. Take them with a grain of salt.

Total

A screenshot from YNAB, a financial budgeting software I’m repurposing to track my carbon footprint.
  • March 2020 total: 967.66 lbs CO2e (23.9% reduction compared to February!)
  • Year-todate total: 4,143.61 lbs CO2e

Remaining

I have just under eight tons remaining of my 10-ton carbon budget for 2020.
  • Remaining 2020 carbon budget of 10-ton allotment: 15,856.39 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-month allotment: 1,761.82 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-diem allotment: 57.66 lbs CO2e

By Category

Transportation (9.5%)

  • Driving: 91.55 lbs CO2e

Housing (32.3%)

  • Electricity: 0 lbs CO2e
  • Water: 132.22 lbs CO2e
  • Natural gas: 180 lbs CO2e

Food (29.3%)

  • Food: 283.9 lbs CO2e

Goods, Services, & Leisure (28.9%)

  • Furniture & appliances: 46.67 lbs CO2e
  • Clothing: 53.33 lbs CO2e
  • Personal care & cleaning: 58.33 lbs CO2e
  • Information & communication: 18.33 lbs CO2e
  • Other services (e.g. car insurance, gym membership): 103.33 lbs CO2e

Analysis

The 24% reduction compared to last month was largely due to two things:

  • Switching to a renewable energy contract with my energy utility
  • Changing how I track healthcare emissions

My lifestyle changes this month were minimal. Most notably, I drove less.

But only a fraction of this reduction was motivated by my wanting to lower my footprint. The rest was the result of social distancing.

Bottom line: I’m still on track to stay within my 10-ton CO2 budget for 2020!

My Updated Thoughts on How to Track Your Carbon Footprint

In March, due to reading the book Live Sustainably Now by Karl Coplan, I began to appreciate how subjective carbon budgeting is.

Should you track your share of government services? What about your work activities? Does your kid’s footprint go on your tab?

As far as I know, there is no right answer.

My thoughts on what to track and what to leave out are still evolving. But as of this month I stopped tracking healthcare-related emissions.

Why?

Because I noticed that doing so was disincentivizing me from seeking out basic care for things like sports injuries. I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I didn’t want to incur the carbon cost of receiving medical services.

Reducing your carbon footprint shouldn’t lead you to neglect your physical or mental health. So to avoid the misaligned incentives I’m no longer tracking healthcare emissions.

Successes: What Went Well & Why

My March footprint was 24% lower than my February footprint. (Note: The “Hidden Categories” are healthcare emissions which I stopped tracking in March.)
  • I switched over to a renewable energy contract with my energy utility. This took all of three minutes and immediately reduced my electricity carbon footprint to ZERO.
  • I drove an average of around three miles per day. In 2019, my daily average was over 30 miles. In a few short months I’ve reduced it by a factor of 10. That is mostly due to moving to a more centrally located part of town and, for this month at least, social distancing.
  • I’m biking more and more. My confidence as a city biker is slowly building. I’m slowly replacing more and more car trips with bike trips. Daydreams about selling my car are a near-daily occurrence. 😄
  • My food emissions were far lower this month. I used a food emissions calculator to calculate some meals I eat virtually everyday (I repeat recipes like crazy). Turns out, their emissions are a net 1.7 lbs CO2e lower per day relative to the crude LiveGreen estimates I was using. Over the entire month that works out to a reduction of nearly 50 lbs CO2e. Win!

Challenges: What Didn’t Go Well & Why

  • Social distancing isn’t fun. Staying home and doing nothing will reduce your carbon footprint, but very few would call that a fun and fulfilling life. Building a small-footprint life that is full of meaning and adventure is a challenge I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
  • Travel planning has become harder. Moving long distances is almost always carbon-intensive…unless you want to bike. Planning visits to my friends who live across the country — and even those who live a day’s drive away — is proving a challenge that I’ve yet to solve.

Takeaways

3 Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Here are some tips I picked up in March:

  1. Use PaperKarma to stop paper junk mail. Junk mail is a minuscule part of your carbon footprint, one that is out of your control to an extent. But PaperKarma makes it easy to unsubscribe from mailing lists. You simple take a photo of the piece of mail and the app does the rest. For more, check out my PaperKarma review.
  2. Set Ecosia as your default search engine. Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees with its profits. You can them help plant trees just by using Ecosia to search the web like normal. It’s SO EASY to switch — it took me less than a minute. (Planting trees doesn’t actually reduce your personal carbon footprint, but when done correctly it can offset some of your emissions.)
  3. Employ slow and steady change. Meaningfully reducing your carbon footprint involves lifestyle change. Lifestyle change can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be sudden. The changes I’ve made so far to lower my footprint — biking more, eating more plant-based meals — have all come from slow and steady change over the past three months.

Biggest Lesson Learned

COVID-19 has shown us all an inelegant way to reduce our carbon footprint: stay home and do nothing.

It has also shown us that is no long-term solution to climate change, let alone any way to live.

This month underscored for me the importance of finding low-carbon lifestyles that are fun and fulfilling. Otherwise, carbon budgeting will only be a movement of ascetics.

Moving forward, that’s the question I’ll work to answer for myself: what’s the low-carbon version of the good life?

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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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