My Q3 2020 Carbon Footprint

Thanks to my aggressive carbon budgeting in previous months, I was able to go on a couple trips in August and September while staying on track to stay within my 10-ton annual budget.

But I realize now how challenging it will be to reduce my carbon footprint for good.

The Numbers: My Q3 2020 Carbon Footprint in Detail

Note: These numbers are all estimates. Take them with a large grain of salt.

Total

  • Q3 2020 total: 4,875.42 lbs CO2e
  • Year-to-date total: 11,315.26 lbs CO2e

Remaining

  • Remaining 2020 carbon budget of 10-ton allotment: 8,684.74 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-month allotment: 2,894.91 lbs CO2e
  • Adjusted per-diem allotment: 94.4 lbs CO2e

By Category

Transportation (48.5%)

  • Driving: 1,184.65 lbs CO2e
  • Flying: 1,182 lbs CO2e

Housing (6.1%)

  • Electricity: 0 lbs CO2e (thanks to our renewable energy contract!)
  • Water: 295.56 lbs CO2e
  • Natural gas: 0 lbs CO2e (we didn’t need to heat the house during the summer)

Food (23.6%)

  • Food: 1,150 lbs CO2e

Goods, Services, & Leisure (21.8%)

  • Furniture & appliances: 268.34 lbs CO2e
  • Clothing: 246.66 lbs CO2e
  • Personal care & cleaning: 133.33 lbs CO2e
  • Information & communication: 128.34 lbs CO2e
  • Bike parts: 63.33 lbs CO2e (I used the “Auto Parts” category in the CoolClimate Calculator)
  • Entertainment: 30 lbs CO2e
  • Paper, office, & reading: 18.33 lbs CO2e
  • Other services (e.g. car insurance, gym membership): 174.88 lbs CO2e

Analysis

The two trips I took in Q3 were the largest contributors to my carbon footprint. The first included a round-trip flight from Atlanta to Denver followed by a road trip around Colorado. The second included a road trip from Atlanta to upstate New York, followed by a one-way return flight from Rochester to Atlanta.

Trips are expensive! (In carbon terms.)

And the trips didn’t just raise my transportation footprint. On the trips I also ate more meat than usual. I increased my foodprint for both months to 400 lbs CO2 to account for this.

Plus, I had to buy a couple pieces of outdoor gear for the Colorado trip. These items — in particular a new pair of hiking shoes to replace my three-year-old ones — increased my goods and services footprint.

Fortunately I had “saved up” a lot of carbon over the previous months. So I was able to go on these trips while staying on track to stay within my 10-ton carbon budget for 2020.

Other than the two trips, my lifestyle was pretty-low carbon!

Successes: What Went Well & Why

  • Carpooled! By going on my road trips with others, I was able to keep the footprint of those trips low.
  • Kept up my low-carbon lifestyle habits at home. I biked, ate mostly plant-based, limited my spending, and didn’t drive too much. These four habits have become the pillars of my low-carbon lifestyle.

Challenges: What Didn’t Go Well & Why

  • Forgot to shop used. I keep forgetting to look for a used version of what I want before buying it new.
  • Let “vacation mode” influence my diet. When on vacation, I tend to eat more animal products. This tendency led me to eat more meat than normal.

Takeaways: Is Willpower Enough?

It’s easy to do anything for a little while. It’s the sticking with it that’s hard.

Reducing your carbon footprint is no different. I’ve had success so far this year, but my motivation to continue the hard parts of the lifestyle has waned. I want to visit my friends and family and buy an ebike, decisions which would likely cause me to blow through my carbon budget (assuming the ebike is new).

I worry that my willpower alone won’t be enough to reduce my footprint for good. The lifestyle I’ve tried out so far this year seems difficult to keep up.

Is there a less strict version of the low-carbon lifestyle that is easier to sustain over the long-term?

Researchers say the best diet is the one you can stick with. I’m starting to think this principle applies to carbon budgeting as well.

Perhaps the best way to reduce your footprint is to do so not in drastic, draconian ways. But in small, manageable ways that you’ll actually stick with.

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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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