Researchers Worked Out Our Carbon Footprint: A Case Study

Speaking from her home in Heslington in York, Isobel can’t keep the pride out of her voice as she talks about a recent research project that identified her community as having the lowest carbon footprint in York. “Being part of the research was a really interesting experience and I was delighted as I have been boring my family silly for the last few years trying to get them to be more environmentally aware,” she says.

The research project was run by the Stockholm Environment Institute and York University and was set up as a joint project between the York Environment Partnership the Stockholm Institute and York City Council. Researchers from the Department of Biology at the University there were also involved.

The Carbon Footprint of York

“The results of the study showed that the average person living in York produces around twelve and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide in every 12 month period. This is slightly higher than the average nationally, but different parts of York had different carbon footprints. Heslington had the lowest and Dringhouses and Woodthorpe had the highest,” says Isobel.

The vast majority of the carbon emissions produced came from transport and housing, which together made up 60 per cent of the total.

Green Attitudes and Carbon Footprint

One interesting finding from the study was that green, environmentally positive attitudes do not always match up with the carbon footprint of a particular community. “Apparently, the surveys showed that Heslington has a lot of people who are interested in environmental issues and who try to be ‘green’ and this works well here. For reasons that the researchers have not really got to the bottom of, other regions of York also rank well for ecofriendly attitudes, but their carbon emission levels are quite high,” explains Isobel. Clementhorpe was one specific example and it was highlighted in the final research report.

The Aim of the Research Project

The main aim was to find more information about the carbon footprint of individual communities within a large city area and was done within a 15 month long campaign called the York Green Streets Challenge. “The idea is to generate more detailed information on communities in York and then choose some of the individual households to target them to really drive down their carbon emissions by leaving the car at home, using public transport, walking, going by bike, whatever they need to do. There are also plans to check the insulation in homes and things like energy usage from high energy light bulbs and inefficient boilers, to see if steps can be taken there too,” says Isobel.

Spurred on by Being a Research Subject

“Although I was only involved a little in this project, I found it so inspiring that I have finally taken the plunge to start a degree course in environmental science at the University. I went to talk to the Head of Department who was involved in planning the York City surveys and he told me about a part time course that was starting this September. I have enrolled, given notice at work and I intend to work as a temporary secretary with agency work to keep me going for the next couple of years while I study. I am hoping to be able to switch to full time after that and complete my degree in four years,” she says.

Already, Isobel has been acting as a volunteer for a follow up project and is enjoying getting some practical experience before she starts studying seriously later in the year. “I am so glad that this project was done in York – it’s given me the push I needed to really follow what I want to do,” adds Isobel.