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Have you started tracking your Carbon Footprint? What about tracking Air Travel?


If you’ve been following along and have started tracking your Carbon Footprint then you’ve sat down with your family and taken inventory of where your biggest sources of emissions are.  Hopefully, you have come up with a few changes that you can make to reach your Carbon Goal.  On this post, I’d like to talk about one specific line item on your Carbon Footprint breakout: Flights.

Flights in Our Life
A normal year for me and Kellie includes a handful of flights:  A few work trips for conferences and a few domestic flights for weddings or a vacation.  In terms of our Carbon Footprint flights are one of our larger single sources of emissions and represent 7.6% of our annual footprint.  Being able to eliminate flights would bring us a quarter of the way to our goal of 26% reductions by 2025.

The Loophole with Flights
Keeping track of your footprint on a per calendar year basis is great because it’s an easy way to check in on your progress.  However, we need to remember that cumulative emissions are more important than emissions in any given year.  A slow and steady drop in emissions every year between now and 2025 is going to have a bigger impact on climate change than waiting till 2024 and making all of the changes at the last minute.  If you go solar this year, you will be affecting your carbon footprint for the coming decades.  The same can be said for Electric Vehicles, HVAC upgrades, and Energy Efficiency improvements.  Flights are unique in the sense that previous years’ efforts won’t have any effect on this year’s effort.

Since flights are calculated year by year, what is to stop us from just not flying in 2025 to meet our goal and then resuming our flight routine in 2026?

How to Fix the Loophole
The whole point of tracking your carbon footprint is to incentivize actual, tangible change.  It is easier to not fly for a year than it is to actually change your behavior over the long haul.  Kellie and I could easily take our family vacations in Dec 2024 and Jan 2026 to avoid logging flights in 2025, but that wouldn’t really be an accurate accounting of our flying habits, would it?

The fix is really simple: We are going to take a 3-5 year rolling average of our flight emissions.  This is going to track our trend and accomplish a few other things:

  • Keeps us from being overly penalized for a year with a lot of travel.  I don’t control when or where people get married.  If we have made a conscious, good-faith effort to travel more sustainably starting today, I don’t think it fits the spirit of the challenge to be penalized for 2025 being the year that I happen to attend 3 weddings in Hawaii.
  • Keeps us from being able to cheat the system and do a 1-year flight diet just to pad the stats.
  • It’s a good reminder that every flight matters and that reducing our flights in the years leading up to 2025 is just as important as reducing our flights in 2025.

The lesson
As I was sitting here thinking about this, I realized that this could apply to different categories of carbon emissions for different people.  Maybe for you, its clothes, or dietary preference, or whatever the category.  If you are worried that you might cheat in a certain category on a certain year, then just take the 3-5 year rolling average.

Some housekeeping items
I’ve been cranking out these posts on a near-weekly basis throughout April.  I am going to reduce the frequency a bit moving forward as I’ve got plenty of homework to do.  I still need to look into HVAC improvements, energy efficiency, and a few other things so that Kellie and I can create a more definitive plan for the next 5 years.  I am going to shoot for monthly updates.  I’d love to hear about your carbon footprint journey too, so please reach out! Tag us on social media or,  and hashtag #CarbonFootprint, or send us an email to let us know what you are doing.

— Andy


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Read Part Five in the Tracking Your Carbon Footprint Series