Tracking Your Footprint

Online carbon calculators show the relative size of one’s carbon footprint and how simple lifestyle choices—say, switching to high-efficiency lightbulbs or taking mass transit—can dramatically decrease your contribution to climate change. “The goals are to get people to understand that everything they do, every dollar they spend, has an impact on the climate, and to provide critical information about which consumption choices lead to the greatest impact,” says Christopher Jones, the University of California, Berkeley environmental researcher who helped develop the “Cool Climate Calculator.”

The calculator considers how far you drive, how much you spend on electricity and even your grocery bill to assign a carbon score, which you can compare to similar households in the nation’s 28 largest urban areas. You can tailor the calculator to almost any city, state or region, and the online data is revealing. Residents in eco-aware San Francisco leave bigger footprints than those in Tampa, Florida, because the city has a higher cost of living and colder, wetter winters.

This past Earth Day, EarthLab set out to convince one million people nationwide to use its carbon footprint calculator to reduce their footprint by 15 percent before the end of the year. National Geographic, Live Earth, superstar chefs Mario Batali and Rachael Ray, computer giant Dell and the online insurance outfit eSurance were among the big names to sign on, and more than two million people have used the calculator since it was launched last July. With EarthLab’s calculator, you can save your results and track your improvements over time. And the site provides more than 150 lifestyle suggestions—from hanging your clothes out to dry, to sending postcards instead of letters.”Our calculator is an important first step in educating people about where they are, then raising their awareness about what they can do to make easy, simple changes that will lower their score and positively impact the planet,” said Anna Rising, executive director of the EarthLab Foundation. “Our goal isn’t about convincing you to buy a hybrid or retrofit your house with solar panels; our goal is to introduce you to easy, simple ways that you as an individual can reduce your carbon footprint.”

But what if you’re a teen living at home and questions like “How much do you pay each month for natural gas’ don’t apply? No problem. The guys at Green Owl Records have you covered. “We added questions like video game use and TV use to help relate these issues to the youth,” says Green Owl’s President Stephen Glicken. “I hope that by using our calculator people realize that there is a cost to their actions.”