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Measure Your Carbon Footprint

Going Carbon Neutral

Becoming carbon neutral is the most important action you can take as an individual to help curb climate change. You can accomplish this by adopting the Monthly Challenges presented by the Community Cool Campaign, and by seeking other ways to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that result from your daily activities. So how do you do that?

Use a Carbon Calculator

The first step is to find out what your CO2 emissions are, also known as your carbon footprint. Since CO2 is invisible to the naked eye, it is difficult to know how much you generate unless you use a CO2 calculator. There are several available on the Internet, but we recommend Acterra's Cool-It Carbon Calculator as part of their Cool-It program. It's simple to use:
    1. First, gather your utility bills, car mileage, MPG, and air travel miles from the last year.
    2. Access the Cool-It Calculator on-line and follow the prompts to identify your annual CO2 emissions.
    3. Make note of this information and the date you obtained it. This will serve as a useful benchmark to compare againt your carbon footprint next year, after you've had sufficient time to implement as many of the Monthly Challenges as you can.
    4. Consider purchasing "Green Tags" to offset your emissions and help you achieve a carbon neutral lifestyle. To learn more, read on.

Renewable Energy Credits, a.k.a. "Green Tags"

Since almost every physical, man-made object we come into contact with requires energy to create it, use it, or dispose of it, it's impossible for most humans to achieve zero carbon emission lifestyles. However, if you calculate how much CO2 you do generate each year, you can purchase green tags--or Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)--to offset your emissions and bring you as close as possible to that noble goal.

A green tag is simply a purchase of renewable energy that is equivalent to the amount of energy you generate each year. The Cool-It program helps you identify how much green tags would cost you based on your carbon calculator results. Green tags ensure that the energy you use in future will be matched by an equivalent amount of energy generated by a renewable energy source, such as a windfarm, instead of by a "dirty" coal-fired power plant. This supports the renewable energy industry which is an important environmental goal, in addition to balancing out your CO2 emissions.

In many cases reducing your energy use will reduce your utility bill enough to pay for your green tags with money leftover. So going carbon neutral can also be "dollar" neutral as well. If you live in Palo Alto, consider signing up for the Palo Alto Green program to get "green" renewable energy from wind through the Palo Alto Utilities web site. This will offset all of your electricity usage. That way you will pay less for RECs for your remaining CO2 emissions.

Copyright2008 Ellen M. Wilkinson and Acterra


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