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Cut Your Carbon in Half

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.

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