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The most surprising emissions source of the year

Weekend driving can still emit tons of carbon (pun intended)
By: Lauren Rosenberg

TerraPass offsets all emissions generated from all employee travel and commutes to our headquarters in downtown San Francisco each year. Most of us are carbon footprinting geeks, always eager to calculate our personal carbon footprints, from activities like weekend driving, flying, and home energy use, to make sure that our footprints are covered across the board. When we saw the findings of our most environmentally-committed  colleague, Nick, we were a little surprised to see how much driving contributed to his total footprint.

Nick is committed to taking public transportation, eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and riding his bike around town on the weekends. He lives with his fiance, Jamie, just across the Bay Bridge  in Oakland. She works from home, so their weekday driving is low if not zero. Even with their earth-conscious lifestyles, the second largest source of emissions for them was from driving: a whopping 39%. How does that work out?

They share her 2000 Honda Accord, which gets average milage for a midsize non-hybrid car; around 25 miles per gallon (MPG). Their annual driving, primarily from weekend driving and road trips around California,  is only 7,000 miles per year, or about 3,500 miles per person per year.  The average American drives 12,000 miles per year, and the average MPG  of vehicles in the US hovers around 21, pushing the average driving footprint up to 5.1 metric tons (about 11,000lbs). This puts Nick and Jamie at about ⅓ of the US average, yet they still produce about 7,000 pounds of carbon each year.

As expected for frequent domestic travellers, flying was the biggest contributor to the couple’s carbon footprint. Five round-trip cross country flights for each of them make flying produces nearly 8,000 pounds of CO2, or 42% of their total emissions. Natural gas use for heating came to 10%, electricity 9%.

So should we stop visiting our grandparents over the holidays, or travel to our favorite vacation spots via paddleboat? Of course not. We can still live a full life while being conscious of our actions, and taking responsibility for your carbon footprint.

If you are not lucky enough to have your the offset of your commute carbon footprint sponsored by your employer, consider finding ways to lighten your footprint on a daily basis. If you don’t live in a place with ample public transportation, walk or bike to work. Public transportation is the most efficient method for longer-distance commutes, followed by carpooling. For air travel, always fly non stop, and swap business travel for video conferencing whenever possible.

What was your 2012 carbon footprint? Have you lowered your emissions in the past year? If so, what lifestyle changes did you make?

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