Carbon Footprint— Not An Easy “A”

It’s like a scorecard following golf rules—the lower the score the better. Except this score packs a much bigger punch because your performance affects the well being of the entire planet! Never mind stressing over the results of your first chemistry test, this one score should be the grade you fear most! I’ll give you a hint in case you haven’t figured it out. I’m talking about a carbon footprint.

Your carbon footprint score is a direct measurement of how you as a person are impacting the environment. Do you drive a vehicle that gets less than 20 mpg? Are you a frequent flyer racking up lots of air miles? Is Styrofoam sitting in your trashcan awaiting its fate in the landfill? If so, you may not be happy with your grade.

I have been aware of the concept of carbon footprints for a while, and I do try to conserve energy whenever I can. However, I never fully realized the extent of the impact I have as an individual. Before I sat down to take the carbon footprint “test” from the Nature Conservancy (which can be found here), I assumed that I would have a very, very small footprint, especially considering I am a college student living in a tiny dorm room. The reality I faced when I took the test was the following statistics staring back at me:


While my footprint of 12 tons of CO2/year is 25% better than the average one-person household, it does reflect a lot of carbon emissions. I thought my score would be better since I don’t own a car or have a house to maintain, so my services and home categories are low.

This made me realize that even a person who considers herself to be living a sustainable life should evaluate what her carbon footprint is. It is great if you turn off the lights when you leave the room or shut the faucet while you brush your teeth, but the energy saved from these actions might not be enough to compensate for your other daily actions that are unsustainable. It is important to look at the whole picture.

Graph of my footprint in tons of CO2/year

Time to face my score! You can see how my footprint compared to similar households in the following graphs. As I expected, my travel score was the worst segment of my total, with nearly half of my yearly emissions coming from travel alone! I don’t have my own car on campus and I walk to and from classes, but some of my extracurricular activities are off-campus so I rely on transportation. Also, since I attend an out-of-state college, a large part of my travel emissions comes from flights to and from home.

Unfortunately, the travel segment is the hardest for me to change. While reducing my travel could create a dent in my carbon footprint, it would be a large demand to place on me, and difficult since I already keep travel to a minimum. Instead, I will work toward reducing one of the other large contributors to my carbon footprint.

This “test” has really opened my eyes to how large of a carbon output is caused by food production. I did a lot of work last year with pollinators, so I try to buy organic produce whenever possible to prevent the spread of dangerous pesticides. It never occurred to me how significantly my other food choices impact the environment, just in a different way. According to a recent study in Nature, agriculture contributes to 1/3 of the world’s total carbon emissions.

My carbon footprint compared to similar households

It’s not easy but I am going to challenge myself to reduce my carbon footprint by changing the food choices I make. Rather than grabbing beef tacos at the DUC I will eat more vegetable-based proteins and proteins that don’t generate methane, for example, chicken. In addition, I will limit the amount of processed foods I eat and select less processed items, such as brown rice over the traditional white rice.


Curious about how your diet affects carbon emission? Check out this great site set up by Emory’s caterer Bon Appétit!

Don’t know your footprint? Take the test at: it’s not an easy “A”.

Energy Be(a)ware!

energy \ˈe-nər-jē\ noun  1a. ability to be active. b. the physical or mental strength that allows you to do things.
 2a. natural enthusiasm and effort.
 3a. usable power that comes from heat, electricity, etc.

You can look up the definition of energy but that doesn’t mean you entirely understand what it is and what contributes to it. And I don’t mean energy from eating healthy or getting a good night of sleep. I am talking about definition 3a.

Do you know where the energy that powers your home comes from?

Are you aware of how much energy that load of laundry really uses?

If not, then now is the perfect time to learn!

Why? October is National Energy Awareness Month.

If you are one of those people who needs an excuse to get active in sustainability issues, use this time to challenge yourself to make a change going forward. It’s never too late to start saving energy!

More information of the designation of energy awareness month can be found here:

What is the point of Energy Awareness Month?

While there are many residential communities, college campuses, workspaces and others who are working hard to reduce their energy consumption, the world is still burning fossil fuels at astronomical rates to meet energy demands, which continue to increase steadily.

The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, yet it consumes 5x as much energy—nearly 25% of world energy usage.

People are aware of renewable energy. But when put to the task, it seems the everyday citizen views the battle with energy consumption as taking place outside of their reality. They are wrong—There are many ways for individuals to reduce their energy usage on a daily basis, and it isn’t that difficult to do.

Energy Awareness Month definitely promotes large-scale energy projects, but also serves to educate the everyday consumer and make energy awareness more accessible.

Quick energy use statistics

What effect do people have on energy usage? Check out these energy stats on common practices:

  • Energy used by devices left on standby—computers, printers,…—account for 5-10% of the total electricity used in residential homes, and contributes to about 1% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
  • Only 5% of the power drawn by a phone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95% is wasted when your phone is left plugged in.
  • Turning off unneeded lights could remove 376 lb of CO2 emissions per year. (Energy Saving Trust)
  • Lighting a typical office overnight wastes enough energy to heat water for 1,000 cups of tea. (The Carbon Trust)
  • 90% of the total energy used by a typical washing machine is used just to heat the water. (Energy Saving Trust) Cold water wash is the best way to do your laundry!

Other fun facts can be found here:

Who can be involved in Energy Awareness Month?

One of the goals of Energy Awareness month is to make energy consumption issues more accessible for common consumers so everyone can participate!

Whether you want to be a lone warrior for the energy cause or you want to put together a team of energy savers in your school, workplace or home. Energy Awareness Month is a great incentive for you!

Many places establish a calendar of events and efforts specifically for this month, but you can build off these ideas at any time of the year—for school community service projects, office team-building events, even your New Year’s resolutions.

Emory University held an energy competition (read about it below).

Even the White House is getting involved! Specifically for this month, the Obama administration organized several clean energy events. You can learn more about White House efforts here:

Emory University- Campus efforts for Energy Awareness Month

Every year, Emory holds a competition during Energy Awareness Month to see who can reduce their energy consumption the most. Residence halls, classrooms and labs all participate in the competition, and for extra motivation, the grand prize is $1000! The competition setting is a fun way to get students involved and interested in energy issues. As the Sustainability Chair for my residence hall, I had many people asking me for tips on how they can reduce their energy consumption! By raising awareness now, we can work towards even more energy reduction in future campus events!

Another program for Emory students during Energy Awareness Month is No Power Hour, when dorms set a time for everyone to unplug their electronics and leave their residence hall to play games and socialize on the quad, all while saving energy! This gives students a fun example of ways they can reduce energy and is a very visible program to spread awareness throughout campus.

How can you decrease your energy consumption?

Hopefully, you have heard something here and want to get involved! Still not sure what you can do? Check out these helpful tips below:

  • Turn off your computer at night.
  • Unplug device chargers when not in use.
  • Adjust temperatures for air conditioning and heating when not at home.
  • Wash laundry when you have a full load, using cold water.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Run your dishwasher with a full load or wash them by hand.
  • Don’t leave water running unnecessarily.
  • Turn off lights when you leave the room.
  • Use natural light whenever possible.

Do you have a great idea of how to decrease energy consumption or spread energy awareness to those who might not know? Please share your ideas!  

Remember, it’s never too late to save energy… Start now!

Emory’s Carbon Footprint


Sustainability is a buzzword in today’s society, and Emory University is a national leader among college campuses. However, arriving on campus and seeing a compost bin for the first time can be a little daunting for some first-year students. Being unaware of its toll, new students often take the elevator up and down when they could use the stairs in their dorm instead.

While I am thrilled that I have joined this community and enjoy being part of the sustainability movement, some first-years might feel a little overwhelmed. It is very important to educate students so they can understand and appreciate the sustainability initiatives on campus. I learned more about the program and Emory’s future goals from Kelly O’Day Weisinger, a coordinator with Emory’s Office of Sustainability, who presented on the university’s Climate Action Plan.

Emory’s first strategic plan in 2005 enacted steps to decrease energy and water use, and reduce carbon emissions and landfill waste. Even with those efforts, the reality today is that Emory still has a relatively large carbon footprint (~354,762 metric tons CO2 per year).



Luckily, Emory’s footprint has stayed fairly constant over the past few years despite increases in campus square footage and a growing student population. Changes in transportation—for example, shuttle buses that run on biofuels produced on campus—helped a lot, decreasing emissions 3% from 2005 to 2010.


Purchased electricity is responsible for the largest portion of Emory’s footprint totaling 55% of emissions in 2010. A lot of this is unfortunately because Georgia Power runs off coal and natural gas. The graph shows emissions from power are declining, but decreasing energy consumption continues to be a large issue on campus. I believe that pursuing alternative energy sources would be a great way to help achieve that goal. One suggestion is more power obtained from solar energy by expanding facilities on campus.

What is the most surprising part of Emory’s profile? The source of emissions that unfortunately increases annually is the contribution by students and faculty. Commuting, travel, and landfill waste are big examples of direct impacts that we have on Emory’s carbon footprint.

climateiconA new Climate Action Plan established last year with the help of students and faculty has set major goals towards reducing Emory’s impact on the environment, projecting a 20% reduction in overall carbon emissions by 2020 and shooting for 50% by 2050. Specific goals include reducing energy use by 50% per square foot, sourcing 75% of food locally or from sustainable means, and diverting 95% of wastes from landfills.


One of the things that stands out to me is how accessible sustainability is on campus. Through a combination of research, teaching, and community outreach, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives works to address issues that are within everyone’s reach.

recyclingiconStudents and faculty who have been at Emory for a while are pretty experienced on how to incorporate sustainable practices into their lives. However, one area that could use improvement is communication with the first-year class, especially considering that students come from such different experiences and not everyone knows about sustainable living.


I believe students are interested in sustainability but often just don’t know where to begin. Increased efforts to educate first-year students about sustainable practices—like hosting zero-waste events, taking shorter showers, and decreasing energy consumption from electronics—would be a great way to cut back on Emory’s footprint. Faculty and commuters can help decrease emissions by carpooling. Raising awareness, teaching practical methods, and encouraging students to be more accountable would start them on the right path for their four years on campus. An introduction to sustainability for new students can be found here:

To learn more about each of the sustainability practices mentioned in this blog click on the icon featuring the topic you wish to explore. Find general information on sustainability at Emory here: