How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint? Turn Down the Thermostat, Ditch the Car, Buy Offsets

Dear EarthTalk: How can I measure—and then improve—my overall “carbon footprint?” What are the major areas of one’s daily life that one measures?

—Andy Fusco, Passaic, NJ

With global warming dominating so many headlines today, it’s no surprise that many of us are looking to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases our activities produce.

Carbon Footprint. Credit: Chris Potter, FlickrCC

By assessing how much pollution each of your individual actions generates—be it setting your thermostat, shopping for groceries, commuting to work or flying somewhere for vacation—you can begin to see how changing a few habits here and there can significantly reduce your overall carbon footprint. Luckily for those of us who want to see how we measure up, there are a number of free online carbon footprint calculators to help figure out just where to start changing.

How big is your footprint? A number of web-based resources can help you assess the environmental impact of your personal activities and lifestyle and help you make improvements that will positively impact the planet.

One of the best is the University of California at Berkeley’s Cool Climate Calculator. The free web-based tool takes into account daily driving mileage and grocery and electricity expenses, among other factors, to assign a carbon score, which users can compare to similar households across the 28 largest urban areas in the U.S. Some of the results are surprising. For example, residents of eco-aware San Francisco tend to have bigger carbon footprints than those in more conservative Tampa, Florida. The reason: San Francisco has a higher cost of living and colder, wetter winters (requiring more fossil-fuel derived heat).

Other websites, green groups and corporations, including CarbonFootprint.comConservation InternationalThe Nature Conservancy and British Oil Giant BP, among others, also offer carbon calculators on their websites. And CarbonFund.org even allows you to assess your carbon footprint—and then offers you the ability to offset such emissions by investing in clean energy initiatives.

For an even more holistic view of your environmental impact, check out the Global Footprint Network’s free online Ecological Footprint Calculator, which drills down into the nitty gritty of what you are doing with your time, what exactly you are eating, and how you get around from point A to B to C.