I Worked Out My Carbon Footprint: A Case Study

As a freelance writer, Claire thought calculating her carbon footprint would show that she had a footprint that was well below the national average. “I don’t travel to work, I use my car very rarely for business and I have decided not to take holidays abroad now because of the cost of air travel, so I thought I would be quite low for my carbon emissions,” she says.

Claire looked on the internet at the many sites that offer a carbon footprint calculator. “Some didn’t seem to be very good but I found one on the Directgov site that really seemed to provide the information I wanted. The interface is very clear and easy to use and I completed the calculation in about 10 minutes,” explains Claire.

The Carbon Footprint Calculator

Claire began working through the screens and first had to put in the size of her house, how many people lived there and what type of house it was. Being the owner of a detached house in a rural area, Claire does have to pay quite a lot each month for electricity and gas and, because she is at home all day, the heating is on during each day in the winter. “This is why I manage to emit 3.28 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, just because of the gas I use in heating,” says Claire.

The number of electrical appliances in Claire’s house is also quite high. “I work from home so have all the usual office equipment – a desk computer, printer, external hard drive, fax machine – and a back up laptop and extra printer, not to mention the router for the broadband and three phones! I am an ecological disaster as far as that goes,” laughs Claire.

As Claire’s husband also works from home three days a week, he also runs two laptops and a printer, so adding to the carbon footprint due to the use of electricity. Having teenagers in the house also means three TVs, half a dozen phones and iPod chargers and enough CD players to start a shop. “When you start to count up all the electrical appliances that are on in the evening, it is a bit of shock,” says Claire.

Higher Than Average

Claire was quite surprised that her carbon footprint turned out to be just over 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted each year, 0.75 tonnes above the national average. “Although we did well on the travel aspect – my footprint is only a third of the national average there, I certainly made up for it because of the increased house heating I use and the electrical appliances,” she notes.

An Action Plan

This particular carbon footprint calculator offers an option at the end of the calculation to look at some tips to reduce the carbon footprint that you have. “Mine said I ought to insulate my loft but that’s difficult because it’s a full head-height room with it being an old house. I will have to explore some sort of insulation and cladding to the roof – it would be great to convert the loft space at some point but that is a bit of an expensive option,” she says. Under floor insulation would also not work as the house has solid stone floors. “The more positive suggestions included switching down the brightness of TVs and monitors, not leaving appliances on stand-by and using economy settings on the dishwasher and washing machine more frequently,” points out Claire.

The household has since gone through every room and discovered a further 11 light bulbs that could be changed to low energy ones, and Claire has decided to buy a relatively inexpensive but efficient halogen heater for the days when she is working in the house alone. “I can keep warm but it doesn’t make sense for the bills or the environment to have the house heating on when no-one else is there to benefit. It’s a very expensive way to keep the cat warm!” she says, laughing again. “With these simple measures I at least want to get down to the national average for my carbon footprint without having to do carbon offsetting!”