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The Current - 3 Ways to Save Money by Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

By: Sarah Roth

Here’s what we know: Americans use more energy than we need. Evidence of our excess can be found on our plates, in our homes, and in our choices. The U.S. outpaces the developed country average for waste generation by 41% and energy consumption by 65% (OECD and World Bank data). We waste an estimated $160 billion worth of food every year, a staggering amount that comes out of our own pockets.

These trends don’t just hurt individual finances, they also contribute to the larger issue of climate change. Two-thirds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked to food production, heating/cooling, transportation, and landfill waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, GHG emissions from human activities are the most significant current driver of observed climate change. By making smarter, more-informed choices around our eating habits, home energy use, and transportation we can make a significant impact.

Rethink your food habits
According to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, the average American household contributes 8.1 metric tons of CO2 emissions through food consumption alone. Over 10% of this is attributed to the carbon cost of transporting food across the globe. Eating locally grown and in-season foods reduces your carbon contribution by cutting the emissions associated with bringing foods to market.

Trimming meat consumption is also an important choice you can make for the environment. Meat contributes nearly 48% of the GHG emissions from food consumption, so even a small change in eating habits can make a difference. By eating a single vegetarian meal once a week over the course of a year, you can save the GHG emissions equivalent to driving 1,180 miles. Moreover, plant based diets are strongly associated with lower levels of heart disease and cancer. Transitioning to a “flexitarian” diet - eating mostly plant-based foods and the occasional serving of meat - results in both direct savings at the grocery store and reduced healthcare costs over a lifetime.

Finally, reducing food waste is a practical way to reduce your carbon footprint. Beyond the moral objections to wasting food, every ounce of food tossed out is money down the drain. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of food produced never gets eaten, and American households throw out an estimated $1,600 of food on average every year. This uneaten food represents a significant amount of wasted energy, labor, and freshwater resources associated with its production and delivery.

There are many ways to reduce food waste: buying irregularly-shaped fruits and vegetables, opting for meal kits, and planning creative meals around what you have at home. A few companies are tackling food waste head-on by selling “ugly” and unmarketable produce to consumers (Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest, and Misfits Market). These companies sell produce for 30-50% lower than retail prices.

In addition, online meal-kit companies like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot are addressing a major contributor of food waste - the ingredients left over after cooking a meal. These companies tailor ingredient portions to what is needed for the meal, thus reducing food waste. Even if meal kits can be more expensive than buying the raw ingredients, consider the costs of wasted food when evaluating their total cost.

Invest in smart home energy
The simplest step you can take to reduce your home energy use is to upgrade to energy saving lightbulbs. Halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs) all reduce energy use and last longer than traditional incandescent lightbulbs. The most energy-efficient option, LEDs, uses only a quarter of the energy of an incandescent lightbulb and last 15-25 times longer. In its Annual Energy Outlook 2019, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that the greatest percentage reduction in electricity intensity from 2018 to 2050 will be driven by lighting.

Heating and cooling your home are also significant sources of emissions. Programmable and wifi-enabled thermostats are making it easy to conserve energy when you’re away. Simply by adjusting the temperature by 8-10 degrees for 8 hours, you can save up to 10% on your home energy bill. Smart (wifi-enabled) thermostats can save anywhere from 10-15% by remotely controlling temperatures, automatically enabling energy-saving settings, and adjusting temperature settings based on your location (geofencing).

For those eager to go a step further, installing solar panels can drastically reduce both your carbon footprint and electricity bill. A solar energy system can qualify for a tax credit and even add value to your home. According to the Department of Energy, solar panels can increase the value of homes by $15,000. Solar energy systems drastically reduce GHG emissions and pollutants like Sulphur oxides, Nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

Make savvy transportation choices
Car ownership is a rite of passage in the U.S. Eighty-eight percent of American households own a vehicle and transportation is the highest contributor to U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. According to the EIA, domestic motor gasoline and diesel fuel consumption in the transportation sector resulted in 1,549 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017 - equal to 30 percent of total U.S. energy-related emissions.

Transportation costs are also the second-largest expenditure for consumers after housing. The average household spends 18% of their budget on transportation - of which the overwhelming majority is spent on owning, maintaining and operating cars. For those living in areas with access to alternative transportation options, using a bus, metro, bike, or ride share can have significant implications for both your carbon footprint and your wallet.

Choose to reduce your carbon footprint
We can all be more responsible with energy use and save money in the process. Having choices and being aware of your options matter. Whether it’s buying misshapen produce or adjusting your thermostat when you leave home, consider the choices you make and their impact on both your carbon footprint and finances.

Sarah Roth is a Washington, D.C. based energy sector professional.

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5/23/2019
WCEE Board of Directors May 2019 Meeting

5/30/2019
WCEE & Energy Bar Young Lawyers Committee May 2019 Happy Hour

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