How Data Helps You Improve Your CO₂ Efforts in 4 Simple Steps

Did you know that a pound of butter causes more CO₂¹ emissions than keeping a modern TV on standby mode for more than three years? Or did you know that sending an email with a large attachment leads to about the same CO₂ emissions as a banana being shipped across the globe²?

As you are reading this article, you are probably interested in acting environmentally responsible. And you also do some measures to reduce your carbon footprint.

Have you ever asked yourself whether you are having a reasonable impact applying these measures? Or do you feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of ways how you could live more environment-friendly?

It is important to compare the impact of your actions. You can do some painful activities for years, but they might still have a lower impact than a few simple, but powerful measures.

For that reason, I encourage you to follow the next four steps to improve your carbon footprint. I will not ask you to do more and more CO₂ saving measures. The idea is that you just need to focus on the most impactful ones.

Please also have a look at my collection of CO₂ saving actions, which can be very helpful when applying the following four steps.

1. Compute your own carbon footprint

There are dozens of webpages that help you to compute your own carbon footprint (some examples: WWF UK, WWF Germany, Nature (US-focused)). This way, you can assess your starting point and get a first idea of the big levers in your scorecard.

2. Collect ideas to reduce your carbon footprint

Think about measures on how you could reduce your carbon footprint based on your current lifestyle. As an inspiration, have a look at my collection of CO₂ saving actions. Post a comment if you have actions to add.

Some examples:

  • Travel by train and bus instead of the car
  • Avoid eating meat
  • Eat pasta instead of rice
  • Switch off lights and avoid standby mode

3. Evaluate your measures

Put a CO₂ saving amount behind each of your reduction measures by checking my collection of CO₂ saving actions and doing some research on the web. There is a huge variety of webpages that help you to collect these numbers. To make these numbers comparable, try to estimate the impact per month. For example, shortening your shower by a minute saves about 0.7kg CO₂. Assuming you take a shower 15 times per month, you can save 10.5kg CO₂ per month.

However, don’t waste time on getting the perfect estimate. It does not matter whether it is 10.5kg or 12kg CO₂ per month. It is just important to get the right scale, so shorter showering is rather around 10kg and neither 1kg nor 100kg CO₂.

Some examples (per month)²:

  • Avoid standby mode of your TV: 0.3 kg CO₂
  • Margarine instead of butter (one packet of 250g per week): 23 kg CO₂
  • Fly to the Baltic Sea instead of the Red Sea as summer vacation destination: 125 kg CO₂ (1500 kg divided by 12; assuming origin Cologne in the west of Germany)
  • Separating waste³: 5 kg CO₂
  • Live in a smaller flat: 23 kg CO₂ (80 sqm instead of 100sqm, per person for a 2-person household)

As a reference, a person living in the Western world has a monthly footprint of around 1000kg CO₂. To slow down global warming, all of us have to drastically reduce this footprint.

4. Focus on impactful activities

Now, have a look at your list and compare the impact. Starting with the most impactful activities, choose the top activities you want to pursue in the future.

Some of my personal top examples (based on my consumptions):

  • Margarine instead of butter: 23kg CO₂ (assuming one packet per week)
  • Tap water instead of bottled water: 9kg CO₂ (assuming 1.5l daily)
  • Soy milk instead of cow milk: 9kg CO₂ (assuming 2l weekly)
  • Going 10kph slower on the highway: 6kg CO₂ (assuming just 330km/month on the highway; many of you have probably more km)

Just implementing these four (simple!) examples, I started saving more than 560kg of CO₂ per year!

My personal flop examples (where I was surprised about the little impact):

  • Avoid burning lights unused: 0.5kg CO₂ (assuming 4x 5 Watt LEDs unnecessarily burning 2 hours per day)
  • Running the dishwasher full once instead of half-full twice: 1.8kg CO₂ (if once per week)
  • Avoid printing on paper: 0.5kg CO₂ (for 100 sheets)

Conclusion

I do not ask you to sell your car, switch off heating, and eat vegan (although it even would be better for the environment, but probably also super hard for you). I rather ask you to be more conscious of the magnitudes of the CO₂ impact in different aspects of life and consider them when intending to be environment-friendly. That way, you can have a significantly reduced carbon footprint with just a few actions.

I am very interested in your thoughts and ideas on this article and on further CO₂ saving measures. Please post your personal CO₂ saving actions to the comments. I will add them to my collection of CO₂ saving actions. Also, feel free to ask in the comments for a CO₂ impact, you could not find on the web.

Footnotes:

¹ When I refer to CO₂, I actually mean CO₂ equivalents. For easier reading, I used the less precise, but simpler term CO₂.
² In this article, I disregarded references for all CO₂ numbers for better readability. Please refer to my collection of CO₂ saving actions to find all references and explanations.
³Of course, there are further valuable environmental protection aspects besides the CO₂ impact, like resource conservation, waste reduction, or animal welfare.

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Fabian Bock

Fabian Bock

Data Scientist, Physicist, PhD in Geoinformatics, Proud Dad— Interested in reading about environment protection, intelligent transportation, social psychology