Reducing Your Carbon Fooprint: The ‘what, why, and how’

By Lindsey Bruno, Assistant Director – Conference and Event Services Office

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is a measurable amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that is sent into the atmosphere as a result of an organization, a product or a person.  A carbon footprint can also be known as greenhouse gases or, in more simplistic terms, carbon dioxide.  Greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide are produced through various channels including, but not limited to, methods of electricity, automotive emissions, and manufactured products.  Daily activities, such as purchasing food, turning on the lights, driving to work, and making coffee, produce carbon dioxide which add to a person’s amounting carbon footprint.  This article seeks to educate on why it is important to be aware of a carbon footprint, as well as explore ways to reduce it.

Why reduce it?

The amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the environment has a direct effect on the climate, air quality, and public health.  In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off on two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases.  According to the EPA’s website, it was discovered that the “current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations”  (“Endangerment and Cause,” 2009).  Each time general fossil fuels are burned (coal, gas, or oil) carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.  Traditionally, the plants and trees would re-absorb the carbon dioxide.  The problem is these fuels are being burned at such a rapid rate that the plants and trees do not have a chance to absorb these gases. (“What are Carbon” 2012).  With all of the extra carbon dioxide in the air, the temperature of the planet is rising.  The higher temperature creates a climate change, bringing with it unpredictable and extreme weather.

Extreme weather and climate change affect public health and is a direct threat to already vulnerable populations (“EPA’s Endangerment Finding” 2009).  These populations include, but certainly are not limited to, the poor, elderly, and/or poor in health; essentially, any population dependent upon very little to no resources.  The extreme weather can affect access and availability to certain crops which ultimately affects the public.  Extreme weather affects the seasonal water supply that the public may rely on.  There is a clear connection between greenhouse gases, extreme weather, and the overall effect on the planet.

How do I reduce it?

Although it may not be possible to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, it is possible to make better choices to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Here are a few simple suggestions that can be easily implemented and will assist in reducing your carbon footprint:

Be smart about what products you buy:  Purchasing locally made or grown products ensures that the product did not have to travel far.  Buy foods that are locally in season.  Purchasing foods out of season may mean that it was flown in.  Do not purchase over packaged products.  Buying organic made products usually ensures the products was manufactured in an eco-friendly way.

Turn it down, up, off, or unplug:  Try turning down your heat by one or two degrees.  Try turning up your air conditioning about 5 degrees.  Try to enjoy the natural light by leaving your lights off.  Try unplugging any appliances or chargers (cell phone, ipod, etc) not in use.  Often times, these products will still draw energy by just being plugged in.  These tasks will not only help in reducing your carbon footprint but have the potential to save you money.

Travel smart:    Maintain your car.  By maintaining your vehicle, you are prolonging the life of your car as well as keeping it running efficiently.  Driving the speed limit, and maintaining a steady speed helps limit the amount of carbon dioxide produced by your vehicle.  If you must fly, try to take a direct flight, or combine the trip with another.

It is understandable that some suggestions may be unavoidable; however, you can always substitute.  If air travel is required, a person can research more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, such as a train or shuttle, once the plane has landed.  As mentioned previously, it may not be possible to completely eliminate greenhouse emissions; however, taking steps to reduce it will greatly help the environment.

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