Putting ourselves on a carbon footprint budget

Calculating our household’s carbon footprint[1] was an eye-opening experience. Seeing our footprint displayed on the screen was humbling, and at the same time motivating. Humbling because we looked like pretty average Americans. Motivating, though, since we could see our improvement opportunities more clearly. We’d already made considerable headway on our home energy consumption, plus we are fortunate to live in an area where the vast majority of electricity comes from renewable energy (hydroelectric, problematic, but far better than fossil fuels). We live in a major metropolitan area and have reduced our day-to-day car travel, doing more errands by walking or taking the bus. But, when we looked at the breakdown of our carbon footprint one major “aha” jumped out–air travel. This past year we celebrated our 30th anniversary by taking a 21-day trek in Nepal . The Nepal trip nearly doubled our carbon footprint in 2014. Mind you, we’re not regretting the trip, but looking forward we are taking on the challenge of putting ourselves on a carbon footprint budget. We’re saying,” let’s try living like Brits.” The 2011 British per capita greenhouse gas emissions were 8.59 metric tons per capita which is less than half of the American footprint of 21.02 metric tons per capita, according to the World Bank.

We love adventure, and the idea of reducing our air travel was hard. But in the spirit of trying to embrace being on a carbon budget, we started seeking out ideas for adventures with a smaller footprint. A list of great trips emerged that don’t involve a large carbon footprint. See Adventure Travel with a Low Carbon Footprint.

To help create a list of low-carbon footprint adventures, we found an excellent resource by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for understanding vacation travel carbon footprints. As they are quick to point out, the concept of traveling green almost always focuses on having a low carbon footprint once you arrive at your destination. In reality getting to the destination typically contributes the most to the travel footprint. Check out their document, “Getting There Greener”:


To determine our carbon footprint we used the EPA calculator below, and added the air travel calculation from the TerraPass site:

It’s important to include the air travel, since for many people that’s their biggest area of CO2 emissions.

[1] The term carbon footprint refers here to all greenhouse gas emissions — primarily carbon dioxide and methane.

One thought on “Putting ourselves on a carbon footprint budget”

Comments are closed.