Frequently Asked Questions
How Else Can I Reduce My Footprint?
Solving the climate change challenge requires action on all fronts – by businesses, governments, and individuals.
You can do your part to reduce emissions by switching to CFL or LED lightbulbs, insulating your home, choosing water and energy efficient appliances, eating locally grown food, and taking advantage of “green power” options through your electric utility. When you’re on the go, choose low-carbon transportation modes like bikes, public transit, and efficient vehicles. If you must fly, book direct instead of connecting flights, and travel with timely airlines and airports.
Find out more about how you can reduce your impact.
Why Should I Care About Carbon Emissions?
Carbon dioxide emissions come from a wide range of human sources – everything from cars, trucks and airplanes to electric power plants and manufacturing facilities. These emissions trap the sun’s heat and are contributing to global warming. NASA and many other sources have confirmed that global temperatures are going up, and the mercury is likely to rise more quickly in the years and decades ahead as the world produces more carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases.”
The United States already is seeing hints of what the future will look like in a warming world — more droughts, floods, heat waves, wildfires and violent storms. In addition, as global sea levels rise because of warming seas and the melting of polar ice, coastal areas will be at serious risk.
But there is another reason to care about carbon emissions. It’s because you can do something about this problem. By taking simple steps to save energy in your daily life, you can reduce emissions and protect the climate — and save some money while you’re at it.
Learn more about climate science.
What Else Affects My Footprint?
Carbon is released when we burn fossil fuels. Your personal carbon “footprint” describes the amount of carbon that is emitted as a result of your choices. This footprint is largely influenced by the energy mix in your area, how much energy you use at home, and your transportation habits. It is also impacted by small decisions you make daily. What you eat, how much water you use, the products you buy, how you dispose of waste, and how you take care of your yard all contribute to your carbon footprint.
I have energy efficient appliances, use CFL/LED light bulbs, and have programmed my thermostat. Shouldn’t my carbon footprint be lower?
This calculator is designed to be a tool that can be completed quickly and provide an informative experience. To achieve that, we have focused on three major components that contribute to your carbon footprint: where you live, your home energy use, and your transportation habits.
To provide your home energy use footprint, this calculator uses the building type and number of people in your household (which are used as indicators of your home’s size) and links that information to the average energy consumption rate and the electricity supply region that corresponds to your zip code. With just a few questions, we can provide your home energy footprint. It is important to note that this is an estimate and it is possible that your home energy footprint is lower thanks to the size and age of your home and the various energy-saving practices you might be employing.
I’m pretty certain my lifestyle is lower-impact than my neighbors, but my results are higher than the local average – what’s up with that?
The “local” average you see is a combination of numbers. The home energy average is the most localized—it comes from sub-state data. The public transit comparison is based on data from your state, and the averages for flights and car travel are based on national data. Therefore, your immediate neighbors aren’t the best basis for comparison.
The tool is also sensitive to your choices. For example, if you use electricity to heat your home and most in your region use natural gas, you might see a significant difference between your footprint and the average. Another reason could be your travel habits: it is possible that you fly or otherwise travel more than the average American.
I’ve read that the type of food we eat can have a large impact on the environment. Why isn’t food included in this calculator?
The focus of the calculator is on direct emissions from individuals’ activities: namely, their consumption of electricity and their use of transportation. The calculator does not include upstream emissions from the production of goods and services, such as the manufacture of automobiles or the production of food.
While the upstream impacts of our choices can be significant, they are also very difficult to measure quickly in a quantitative and accurate way. Learn more about ways to reduce resource waste, including food waste.
Why shouldn’t I count my business travel in the transportation section?
The calculator is designed to assess the emissions of individuals in their personal lives rather than those related to their employment and workplace. We expect that your company is already covering the environmental impact of your work travel, since it is a factor of doing business. Many companies today include these impacts in their carbon footprints, and some even balance out their employee’s travel with carbon offsets. Therefore, it would be redundant to count business travel here as well.
I’ve heard the average American’s footprint is around 17 tons of CO2, but my result is much smaller than that. Am I low-impact compared to other Americans?
Maybe! But first it is important to know where this average comes from. The commonly cited number is that the per capita emissions for someone in the United States is 16.5 metric tons. Because the total U.S. emissions include activities that occur anywhere in the United States regardless of the source, the per capita number includes the emissions associated with our overall economy, including fossil fuel development (mining and refining), production of goods and services, agriculture, etc. Our calculator, on the other hand, focuses on the direct emissions associated with individuals’ lives at home and on the go.
I’m having trouble understanding the implications of my footprint. Can I compare this number to anything?
Absolutely! Let’s say your carbon footprint is 15,000 lbs. of CO2 per year. That is equal to the amount of CO2 from 766 gallons of gasoline consumed, 16,200 miles/year driven by an average passenger vehicle, or 7,308 pounds of coal burned.
To use your own results to learn more about the implications of your footprint, you can try out the EPA’s carbon equivalency calculator.
I’d love to share this tool with people in my community. How can I do that?
On the results page, you can share the calculator with family and friends via email as well as social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.