Cut Your Carbon in Half

A hiker's guide to fighting climate change
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A hiker's guide to fighting climate change


Now the good news: You can make a difference. Experts say there are hundreds of simple yet meaningful ways to reduce your CO2 output at home, in the office, in the car, and even on the trail. Start here—with our guide to 101 easy, effective, and often cost-saving solutions.

Key:

# equals pounds of CO2 saved per year.

$$$$ = Save

$ = Spend

How We Calculated CO2 Savings: For every solution we suggest, we wanted to provide authoritative estimates of their carbon savings. That meant finding a peer-reviewed methodology with strong third-party endorsements.

After exploring various options, we partnered with Cooler, a Bay Area firm that takes a hybrid approach to calculating CO2 savings. Its experts start with an input/output analysis of the impact of each economic sector related to the good or service in question. Then they conduct a process analysis, examining everything from the product's raw materials to how it is made, packaged, and transported. Finally, they combine those results to distill an average per-capita carbon number.

What's that mean in plain English? Say you wanted the carbon footprint of toilet paper. Cooler knows the total emissions of the U.S. economy and its major sectors. So it begins with a top-down question—What's the size the toilet paper industry relative to the entire economy? An algorithm spits out a number that represents TP's proportion of total carbon. Then Cooler takes a bottom-up look at the actual cost to make and distribute a single roll. The approach is comprehensive; it even factors in flights that TP executives take to market their product.

Cooler's calculator may be the most sophisticated tool around, but company founder Michel Gelobter cautions that this is an evolving science. "There are many variables that can affect the exact cost of any action or product," he says. "Until we can footprint every item from the ground up our calculations are estimates—precise estimates but still estimates." The numbers in this story, all provided by Cooler, will be refined over time. That's especially true for the hiking entries, which were calculated here for the first time anywhere.

Cooler itself is an innovative new business that makes smart shopping part of the solution. Launching this summer, its online mall (climatecooler.com) and affinity credit card will automatically offset your purchases at no extra charge. When you buy a pack, for example, Cooler will calculate its footprint and take a cut of the merchant or bank's share of the purchase price. (So a $149 pack still costs you $149, even after offsetting.) The cut is based on the investment in renewable energy required to neutralize the pack's impact (plus a small fee for Cooler). The company's clean-energy purchases are directed by a coalition of green groups—Environmental Defense, National Wildlife Federation, and Natural Resources Defense Council—and Cooler is working with the Gold Standard, the world's leading offset monitor, to identify credible investments in the United States.

Home and office

1. Use a power strip for your computer, monitor, fax, copier, TV, DVD player, iPod, and cell-phone chargers, and switch it off when those devices aren't in use. Most electronics draw power even when they're off, including empty chargers in standby mode. 2,000, $$$$

2. Change your light bulbs. Swap out incandescents with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). 120 per bulb, $$$$

3. Turn off incandescent lights when leaving a room for even just a few minutes. If you use CFLs, turn them off if you leave for 15 minutes. 89, $$$$

4. Cancel catalogs and remove yourself from junk-mail lists. 15, $$$

5. Telecommute. 5,700, $$

6. Pay bills online and save postage, too. 0.04, $$$$

7. Tell cashiers not to print receipts you don't need. 0.04, $$$

8. Use both sides of the page to print or copy. 6 per household, $$$$

9. Read the newspaper online to save paper, trees, and carbon. 67 (average paper), 300 (NY Times), $$$$

10. Skip the lighter fluid and start your charcoal with an electric igniter or chimney starter. 6, $$$

11. Eat one less serving of meat a week. Substitute a cheese-free alternative each week. Cheese, an animal product, has the same carbon cost as meat. 195, $$$

12. Ride your bike to work. 2,220, $$$$

13. Use recycled paper (100% post-consumer) in your office. 6 per ream, $$

14. Push an electric mower, or even a reel mower—not a gas model. 80, $$$$

15. Replace exterior lights around your home with solar-powered ones. 110, $$$$

16. Rake leaves and shovel snow instead of firing up a leaf blower and snowblower. 20, $$$$

17. Drink tap water instead of bottled, and you'll also extend the life of your local landfill. Plastic bottles require energy to make, fill, and ship, and half-liter sizes generate emissions at twice the rate of gallon jugs. Faucet water needs energy only to pump. 52, or 2 per gallon jug, $$$$

18. Tote your groceries in reusable bags. 5, $$$

19. Plant an organic garden and grow your own vegetables. 5, $$$

20. Collect rainwater from downspouts and use it to water your garden. 30 per gallon, $$$$

21. Support local farmers by buying a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share. You'll receive fresh produce every week and reduce the carbon emissions generated by shipping it thousands of miles. 67, $$$

22. Compost food scraps and yard waste so you can skip synthetic fertilizers, which pollute water and are energy-intensive to produce. 0.7, $$$$

23. Buy local and organic food direct from the farmer whenever possible, and keep dollars in your local economy. The biggest savings are realized in eliminating transportation. 200, $$

24. Use a laptop, not a desktop. Laptops use up to 80% less energy. 400, $$$

25. Water plants with a can or drip-irrigation system instead of a sprinkler, and water only between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., when less is lost to evaporation. 30 per gallon saved, $$$$

26. Reduce your energy usage 20% by downsizing when choosing your next home. 5,400, $$$$

27. Use locally appropriate, locally fabricated materials when building or renovating to avoid the carbon cost of transporting heavy materials. 7 per hundred lbs. not transported from out of state, $$

28. Buy green power, or ask your utility to offer it. The typical United States home uses about 10,000 kilowatt hours a year. 22,000, $$

29. Use recycled-content toilet paper. If every U.S. household replaced one roll per year, 424,000 trees would be saved. 0.4 per roll, $$

30. Repair, don't toss appliances. Each fix means you won't buy a new one. blender: 13, refrigerator: 690, washing machine: 410, $$$

31. Buy energy-efficient appliances. Energy Star appliances use 10 to 50% less energy and water, and meet strict efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. The appliance's yellow EnergyGuide label cites its annual power consumption and operating cost, and compares it with similar models. 340 (dishwasher), 780 (refrigerator), 1200 (washing machine), $$$$

32. Dry your dishes on a rack, or use your dishwasher's air-dry cycle. 660, $$$$

33. Use a microwave, not a conventional oven, to heat small quantities of food. 1 per meal, $$$

34. Buy secondhand at tag sales for household items and save the carbon cost of new production. 55, $$$$

35. Recycle household paper, plastic, and metals. 1,300, $$$

36. Reuse jars, bags, and food containers. 4 , $$$$

37. Set your water heater at 120°F. 1,200 (electric water heater), 880 (natural gas), $$$$

38. Adjust your thermostat down 2°F in winter and up 2°F in summer. 420, $$$$

39. Upgrade your furnace to a more energy-efficient model. 2,400, $

40. Eliminate drafts by caulking and weatherstripping, installing storm windows, upgrading insulation, and removing window AC units in winter. 800, $$$$

41. Use passive solar to capture heat in your home and office: Open curtains during the day and close them at dusk, except in summer, when you should close curtains during the hottest hours of the day. Besides carbon, you'll save 25 to 75% on your heating and cooling bill. 2,700, $$$$

42. Clean AC filters or replace them. 350, $$$

43. Run ceiling fans instead of AC. In hot climates, this can easily save more than a ton of CO2. 2,700, $$$$

44. Use cold water to wash and rinse clothes, not hot or warm. 27, $$$$

45. Hang laundry to dry, eliminating one dryer cycle per week. 200, $$$$

46. Take a Navy shower: Turn off the water when you're soaping up. 35, $$$$

47. Go for a low-flow showerhead. 1,800 (electric), 430 (natural gas)

48. Shave in the sink, not the shower.

50, $$$$ 49. Don't overfill your kids' bathtub. 50, $$$$

50. Say no to carpeting. 4,000 per 800 sq. ft., $$

Top Resources

• Home and office energy audits: homeenergy.org/perfbro.intro.html; epa.gov/climatechange; doe.gov

• Recycling: earth911.org

• Energy-efficient products: eere.energy.gov/consumer; buyenergyefficient.org/buy.html; energystar.gov

• Make your home more efficient: toronto.ca/health/2020/athome.htm; aceee.org/consumerguide/chklst.htm; pepco.com

• Green your office: cleanair-coolplanet.org/solutions/greenoffice.php

• Green power: epa.gov/grnpower/locator/index.htm; climatebiz.com; eere.energy.gov/greenpower

• Get off mailing lists: 888-5-OPTOUT; newdream.org; dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailing

Auto

51. Cut down on car washing. 3 per wash, $$$$

52. Accelerate gradually. 100, $$$$

53. Use cruise control on the highway. 100, $$$$

54. Drive the speed limit. 150, $$$$ 55. Combine errands into one trip and save 500 miles of driving a year. 510, $$$$

56. Lighten your load. 100 pounds of junk in the trunk can reduce gas mileage by 2%. 10, $$$$

57. Keep tires inflated to the manufacturer's recommended pressure, noted on the sidewall. 100, $$$$

58. Check your air filter monthly and replace it when it looks dirty. 800, $$$

59. Don't top off at the pump. You'll eliminate accidental spillage and reduce toxic emissions. 9, $$$

60. Don't idle for more than 10 seconds in traffic or at a drive-thru; instead, turn off your engine. 500 (10 non-idling minutes), $$$$

61. Walk or ride a bike when running errands; cut your driving by 10%. 1,000, $$$$

62. Carpool or bus to work instead of driving. 500 (carpool), 690 (bus), $$$$

63. Use your AC sparingly, or not at all. 100 (sparingly), 600 (never), $$$$

64. Remove your roof rack when you're not using it; a rack can decrease fuel efficiency by 5%. 250, $$$$

65. Buy a hybrid when it's trade-in time. 5,300, $

Top Resources

• More efficient vehicle use: fueleconomy.gov

• Climate-friendly vehicles: eere.energy.gov/fleetguide/hevcalc.html; jdpower.com; fueleconomy.gov

Travel

66. Carry a fork and travel mug in your car and say no to plastic silverware, disposable cups, and paper napkins. 65, $$$

67. Reuse hotel towels. 0.1, $$$

68. Bring your own shampoo, conditioner, soap, and skin lotion and skip the single-serve ones in your hotle room. 2, $$

69. Offset your travel with carbon credits. U.S. to Europe: 5,500, $$

70. Choose close-to-home adventures. Cutting your travel distance can save big. 1 per mile, $$$$

71. Travel by bus or train whenever possible. Air travel and driving long distances solo have high carbon costs. Public transit is almost always the most efficient way to travel. 252 per 300 miles in a bus vs. car, $$$

72. Rent a hybrid or biodiesel car at your arrival city. 50 per 100 miles driven, $$

Top Resources

• Green travel and vacations: sustainabletravel.com; eco-indextourism.org

• Offset your travel: nativeenergy.com; carbonfund.org

Trail

73. Use the sun to recharge backcountry electronics. 28, $$

74. Borrow, rent, or share gear. 84 (tent), 60 (sleeping bag), $$$

75. Use an efficient stove. Recycling used canisters also keeps your carbon costs lower. 0.002 per day (canister stove), 0.004 per day (white gas stove), $$

76. Reuse zip-top bags. 0.1, $$$$

77. Buy bulk food and package it yourself in reusable containers. 0.2, $$$$

78. Maintain and repair gear so you replace it less frequently. 18, $$$$

79. Donate $200 in used gear to a charity or consignment shop. 220, $

80. When nature calls, wipe with natural materials such as snow, leaves, sticks, and moss. 0.4 per roll not used, $$$$

81. For camp cleanups, use a cotton bandana that can be rinsed and reused, not baby wipes. 0.8, $$$$

82. Replace old gear with green gear as it wears out—an old polyester fleece with a recycled poly fleece, for example. 6.5. $$

83. Use rechargeables (lithium-ion batteries) instead of standard AA or AAAs. 450, $$$

84. Give up the gas-powered lantern in favor of a candle lantern or an LED rechargeable lantern. 0.3 per hour, $$

85. Plan loop hikes to minimize car shuttles. 1 per mile not driven, $$$$

86. Use mapping software to print your maps at home. You'll save your transportation to the store—and the map's, too. 5 per trip, $$$

87. Wear leather hiking boots instead of synthetics. 23 per pair, $$

88. Sleep in a down bag, not a synthetic one. 6.8 per bag, $$

89. Shut down your house when you leave on a weeklong hiking vacation. Turn off all appliances except your refrigerator. 500, $$$$

90. Take low-carbon vacations. A typical 4-day backpacking trip saves big over a golf vacation of the same duration. 1,360, $$$$

Top Resources

• Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Co-op are both leaders in this field. patagonia.com; mec.ca

Community

91. Plant trees, starting with the 10 you'll get free when you join the National Arbor Day Foundation. 3.3 per tree

92. Convince one friend or neighborhood family to reduce their water usage. 150, $$$

93. Ask your church or synagogue to convert to green power. California-based Interfaith Power and Light's 460 congregations saved 5,586,000 lbs. of carbon in 2006 by switching to renewable energy and improving their energy efficiency. 12,000 per church, $$$

94. Support bike lanes, carpooling, mass transit, and greenspace, then get 50 people to commute by bike or bus. 30,000, $$$

95. Pick an initiative and lobby in your community. Recruiting just 500 people to recycle their newspapers every day would have a significant impact. 92,000, $$$

96. Volunteer on a community council or for an advocacy group fighting global warming. Conduct a campaign to convert 3,000 homes in your town to CFL light bulbs. 360,000, $$

97. Write letters to the editor and express your opinion in community meetings in support of action on climate change. If a city of 25,000 households switched to 10% renewable energy, the savings would be huge. 68 million, $$$

98. Give away clothes, household goods, and other items you don't need to friends, neighbors, or charities—or worthy strangers on Craigslist. 81, $$$

99. Organize a clothing swap with your 10 friends, and save everyone money. 1,000, $$$$

100. Ask your dump to open a reuse center where you can bring items that another family might use. 120 for a used bike, $$$

101. Vote for candidates who support action on climate change. Think your vote doesn't matter? Consider AB 32, the groundbreaking California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which reduces the state's carbon emissions 20% by 2020. 160 billion, $$$

Top Resources

• Planting trees: arbordayfoundation.org; americanforests.org/campaigns/ikea/ikea.php

• Green schools: globallearningnj.org/SchoolGHGcalculator.doc

• Give away or find free stuff: craigslist.com; freecycle.org

• Green communities: resourcesaver.org/file/toolmanager/CustomO16C45F65020.pdf; green-e.org; epa.gov/greenpower

• General global warming information: climatebiz.com; cleanair-coolplanet.org

• Talking to kids about global warming: dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/earth/air/global.htm

• Carbon footprint calculators: carboncounter.org; http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/content/ResourceCenterToolsCalculators.html

• List and ratings of groups fighting global warming: climateark.org