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Lawrence, KS

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Part Two of the Blog Series: Why Tracking the Carbon Footprint is Important


It’s been a few weeks since my wife and I decided to track our carbon footprint. In this post, I am going to walk you through our process of deciding the best strategies for meeting the goal of 26-28% carbon emissions reduction by 2025. So here we go!
Here are the Official Goals for my household:
  • 26-28% reduction by 2025
  • 40% reduction by 2030
  • Notes:
    • There will be more goals in the future
    • All goals use 2019 as the baseline year

Why We Use 2019 As Our Baseline
This project is based on the US Paris Climate Goal of 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2025, based on a 2005 baseline. My wife and I have no idea what our carbon footprint was in 2005, and I am assuming you don’t either. We are using our 2019 emissions as our baseline for the following reasons:

  1. We did our footprint calculation in Feb 2020 and everything from 2019 was still fresh in our heads.
  2. 2019 happened to also be a good baseline year for air travel. Our 2019 air travel includes a few work trips and a few domestic vacation flights. I think I am going to have a future post going into the best way to calculate air travel because it could be more complicated than it appears. More on that later…
  3. A 2019 baseline still gives us 5 years to work on our 2025 goal. The first thing I experienced when starting to go down this path was anxiety. As I mentioned in my first post, most of us generally know what needs to happen for us to reduce our carbon footprint. The list of solutions is very long and what gave me anxiety worrying about was how I was going to do everything on that list, TODAY. That just is not a reasonable expectation. Who do you know that can afford to put solar on their home, buy an electric vehicle, upgrade to efficient HVAC, and do a deep energy retrofit in the same year…and without notice? No one! 5 years gives us enough time to plan, budget, and spread the costs over time. This post is about the first steps in creating a plan.

Our Footprint

Our combined footprint for 2019 was 29.77 metric tons of CO2. Here is the breakdown of results per the calculator:



*there was no bucket for me to put my Amazon & Target purchases. In future years, I will be putting those purchases into the Furniture & Manufactured Goods category. I expect this number to jump up in 2020 since I will be better at keeping track.


The first reaction to the numbers

After we did our footprint, my first instinct was to calculate what a 26% reduction actually is. The answer is 7.74 Metric Tons. We need to reduce our annual emissions by 7.74 Metric tons in 5 years. Looking through the numbers, the biggest emitters are exactly what I thought they would be: Home Electricity Usage, Cars, Flights, and Food. So the first thing that we did was take an inventory of each category to see where the opportunities lay:

  • Electricity
    • Solar – I actually already have solar on my home. My next post will be about why my home electricity usage, and associated emissions, are so high despite my solar. Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with the solar itself. I just did a poor job of planning for future growth. Our experience is a pretty good case study.
    • HVAC – My AC unit is something like 20 years old. Every Summer I think it’s going to die on me and every Summer it keeps chugging along. I am highly confident that we will get a new AC unit in the next 5 years. This is a big sigh of relief because we found our first potential source of reduction!
    • Energy Efficient Building Envelope – There is a big opportunity here, and I know this because I have personally experienced just how leaky my home is. Last Summer I was working on my deck and I felt a cool breeze when I was working by the house. I got up to close the patio door, and it was already closed. The air was leaking through the walls, by the base plate. I am marking this down as something to look further into. Another potential source of reduction!
    •  LED lighting – This was my first home project…Done.
    •  Insulation – I need to find time to go into the attic and take a look. There are probably savings to be had in my attic!
  • Cars
    • Andy’s Car – I drive a plug-in hybrid (Chevy Volt).  For those of you who don’t know what a plug-in hybrid is, it is both an electric vehicle and a gas-powered vehicle. The first 30 miles after a full charge are 100% electric, then the gas kicks in to take me beyond 30 miles. If I only ever drove around town I wouldn’t need gas and I would effectively be driving a 100% electric car. However, I commute from Shawnee to Lawrence regularly. Most days I am 100% electric on my morning commute and 100% gas on my evening commute. If I can figure out a way to charge my car at work, I am pretty sure that I can reduce my emissions quite a bit. We typically take my car on long trips so I would have some gas usage every year. Plus, I take longer trips for work that require gas on a monthly basis. Being able to charge at work should still reduce my Car emissions by ~50-80%. Potential Savings!
    • Kellie’s Car – Kellie drives a Hyundai Elantra, which is a fairly efficient car. We’ve had such a good experience with my car that we would probably get a 100% electric vehicle for her next car. We don’t know when we will get her a new car as this car is fairly new. While upgrading Kellie is a good potential source of reductions, I don’t think we can count on it by 2025. If we don’t get her a new car before 2025, I feel pretty confident that we will get her a new car before 2030. So it would at least help us hit the 2030 goal.
    • Public Transit – I don’t think that Public Transit would fit my work schedule, which stinks. Last Fall, I was at the Solar Power International Conference in Salt Lake City and they had a very robust transit rail system. After using it for a few days, I was struck by how much time we waste driving. I could be reading, answering emails, or even sleeping. I guess if we had a better mass transit system here in Kansas City and the surrounding areas, there would probably be days that I could use it. Though there would definitely be days that I could not use it. Kellie, on the other hand, could use it several days a week if we had a more robust network in Kansas City. She works ~30-40 minutes away. If there was a station 5 min from our house, it might be doable. Overall, this is an option that does not have potential for a variety of reasons.
    • Working From Home – I started writing this post before COVID 19 changed everything. It has been quite interesting to see how easy the transition has been to work from home. Granted, we don’t have kids. I filled up my tank with gas a few weeks ago, not because I needed it but because gas was so cheap. Since filling up, I have been 100% electric. My driving is limited to the grocery store and “getting out of the house” breaks.  I’m very interested to see how long this lasts and if I can keep working from home when this is all said and done. This is far more than a good potential source of reductions, I am reducing my footprint as you read this.
  • Flights
    • This is a tough one! If I’m being honest with myself I see us flying more over the next decade, instead of less. So we will either have to make additional reductions somewhere else or be willing to take more time off for vacations so that we can drive. Driving somewhere for a vacation can add several days to a trip. Being stuck in a car does not sound better than vacationing. I’ll keep thinking about this one, very tough to commit to reductions here.
  • Food
    • So we actually do a pretty good job here. Kellie is entirely pescatarian and I end up eating very little meat. We could probably go 100% vegetarian/pescatarian if we have to but I think we can find reductions someplace else. I’ve found that reducing my meat consumption wasn’t that hard. But knocking my meat consumption down to zero? That seems hard. For now, let’s keep looking at our options.
  • Other Mentions
    • Clothes – We can do a better job of buying used clothes, It’s just not always possible. We will continue to need new clothes here and there. When we do buy new clothes, we are at the mercy of the clothing manufacturer to have made sustainable decisions in the manufacturing process and supply chain. This same issue extends to many other types of consumer products. In many cases, my emissions are dependent on the practices of others.  Outside of trying to buy less or supporting businesses that practice sustainability, there is not much I can do about this. For the purposes of our carbon footprint calculation, we don’t add money spent on used clothes to our annual “Clothes” spend. So used clothes count as Zero Metric Tons / Dollar Spent. Is this 100% accurate? Probably not. But, we are incentivizing the right behavior: buy used clothes whenever possible.
    • Secondary – This category is filled with a bunch of small items, but they still add up to 11 Metric Tons…that is a third of our annual emissions. I’m going to think more about how to tackle these smaller categories.


Honestly, I’m split. Part of me is very optimistic about our chances to hit the goal of 26% reduction by 2025 and the other part of me thinks that we are biting off more than we can chew. Staying optimistic, I can probably get 15-20% reductions right off the bat by replacing my HVAC and convincing my boss to install an electric vehicle charger at work. From there, a home energy efficiency project + getting Kellie an Electric Vehicle should be able to get us to 26% reductions and beyond. This is great, but that still leaves a long way to go to get to 40% reductions by 2030. This is where I had an interesting realization; we are really talking about three types of problems:

  1. Problems that money can fix – Solar, Electric Vehicles, HVAC, Energy Efficiency, etc. As you may have noticed from my takeaways that this is the path that I have gravitated towards. I find myself reassured by how many of the solutions simply require money, we just need to deploy them. These are solutions that don’t require you to change behavior, all you need is money.
  2. Problems that behavior and habits can fix – Reducing meat in your diet, recycling, buying used instead of new, etc. These solutions really made me feel like I was giving something up. These solutions take effort and you can’t just throw money at the problem. In order to get to our 2030 goal, we are going to have to start changing some of our behaviors and habits. I am not sure what this will look like in real life, but this is an important group of solutions.
  3. Problems that you have no control over – Airlines moving to bio-fuels, regions investing in public transit, businesses installing EV chargers, manufacturing products that are environmentally conscious, etc. These are solutions that I have very little control over but can make a huge impact on my footprint. I can only hope that the world around me is working to reduce their footprint too. As the world around us emits less, so do we.

Closing Words

I hope that this insight into our thought process was helpful. Yours will likely be different. You may not be as Gung-Ho about your next car being 100% electric as we are. You may have a brand new HVAC system, making the purchase of a newer, more efficient system not feasible. I’m not asking you to copy our solutions and use them for yourself [though we do have a great plan 😉 ], the point of this post is for you to see how we are using the Carbon Footprint calculator to make informed decisions as we put together our carbon footprint plan.

If you have thoughts or comments, please reach out!  Future posts will include: more thoughts on air travel, my big lesson when I went solar, and more of our experience as we work to reduce our carbon footprint!