Carbon GPA

Carbon GPA

My family and I have been working hard all semester to improve our carbon footprint grades. And we have succeeded!

Each of our footprints dropped by 1 ton of CO2 per year when compared to just two months ago.


Statistics of my food consumption

When I first calculated my footprint at the beginning of the school year, I had an idea of where I thought it would be. I knew my travel would be high because of my flying to and from Arizona and Emory. I also knew the home and services categories would be on the lower end because I live in a small dorm room. The category of footprint impact that I needed to improve was my food intake.

So I set the goal of monitoring my food intake to make smarter selections. Mainly, I reduced the quantity of beef and other ruminating meats in favor of chicken and other proteins that have a smaller footprint. Throughout the semester, I made active choices each time I ate.

This change alone contributed to a large portion of the 1 ton of CO2 per year that I shaved off my footprint. By further removing beef from my diet, and by substituting non-meat proteins as an alternative to meat-based meals, I could reduce my footprint even farther.


My carbon footprint food score dropped almost 1 ton of CO2 per year, making my score 50% better than the average single household. 


Statistics for my family’s home energy usage

My family’s initial footprint calculation was 58 tons of CO2 per year. Their main goal for reducing their footprint is to downsize their home now that all of the children are out of the house. That is a definite goal for the future, but not something they accomplished this semester. However, they did purchase a new vehicle. Their new Subaru gets much better gas mileage than our old van did, reducing their score by one whole ton of CO2.

Even though my family did not downsize their home yet, they are participating in a new program sponsored by their current energy provider. This program allows them to purchase 50% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal. After re-calculating the footprint score using this program for utilities, their footprint is expected to drop an additional 4 tons!


My family was successful reducing their footprint to be 25% better than average for a household of three.

Curious about your family’s carbon footprint? Calculate it here:

The Upside of Downsizing

The challenges faced by a college student, such as myself, are quite different from those faced by a whole household. I don’t have to think about home maintenance or paying the electricity bill. The most I have to worry about is vacuuming the carpet in my dorm room that always seems to be dirty.

Many people would pass these differences off as the luxury of being a college student before being thrown into the real world, and in a sense it is. My family’s carbon footprint is about 5x larger than mine is as an individual living on campus. However, there are only 3 people currently in my family’s household, meaning that each individual takes on a larger portion of the footprint, each a whopping 19 tons of CO2 per year compared to my 12 tons. That is a lot even considering my family’s footprint is 18% better than the average household of a similar size.


Graph of my family’s footprint in tons of CO2/ year

What accounts for such a large carbon footprint in the household? It comes back to that luxury of being a college student, and simple common sense. A larger living space ⇒ more energy needed for things such as electricity ⇒ bigger carbon footprint.

This turned out to be one of the largest issues for my family’s footprint. The home section of the footprint calculation was 58% worse than average carbon emissions for a 3-person household.

This was a little surprising for my mother who thought that the extra insulation, low energy windows, energy-rated appliances, and other features purposefully installed in the house made for an energy efficient home.

However, the house was constructed 12 years ago, and it is really designed for a larger family, not the three people living in it currently.

My mom stated that this was one of the most important things she learned from calculating her carbon footprint.

Even if you make choices to be more sustainable, they must be done in the necessary scale to have the impact that you imagine them to have. My parents plan to look into other options to improve energy efficiency, and will be downsizing when they buy their next house.


My family’s footprint compared to similar households

So considering the size of the house and the maintenance required for upkeep, it makes sense that my family’s household footprint is larger than mine here at college. But how much do the individuals in the household contribute to the footprint? More than you might think.

As I discussed in the analysis of my carbon footprint, food was one area where I had a lot of room to improve. My family had similar results except now there are three people making those same carbon-emitting choices. If even one of those people is able to reduce his individual carbon footprint from food, it would lower the footprint for the whole household, and that is exactly the challenge my brother set for himself.

My parents set individual goals that will decrease overall footprint when accomplished. My dad plans to decrease the infamous vampire electronics (chargers that still use energy when not in use), and my mom will organize errand strategies to decrease overall driving time and mileage.

Surprisingly, travel was one area my household was below average, where many other families tend to be high. Although we rack in a lot of miles flying, our drive time is unusually low, especially now that I am out of the house. It helps that my dad seeks out fuel-efficient vehicles when purchasing a car. While there is definitely room for improvement in all areas of carbon emissions, travel is one where my family is already making great steps towards reduction.

Curious about your family’s carbon footprint? Calculate it here:

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”.