How big is your carbon footprint?

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Tips for Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint

Environmental awareness is at an all-time high. We've moved beyond the message that littering is bad -- today we have Web sites, television programs, documentaries and books examining our impact upon the environment. As our knowledge increases, so too does our desire to do something about the situation. What can you do to help reduce any negative impact on the environment?

One approach is to reduce your carbon footprint. But what does that mean? Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide you generate during your daily activities. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. As we produce more carbon dioxide, we increase its concentration in our atmosphere. Eventually, this gas helps trap heat around the Earth, contributing to global warming.

The average U.S. citizen produces several tons of carbon dioxide each year. The average carbon footprint for an American is between 10 and 30 tons of carbon dioxide per year, depending upon how you measure it. While environmentalists disagree on the best way to calculate carbon emissions, there are several online calculators that help the average user evaluate his or her own impact.

That's the first step to minimizing your carbon footprint -- determining how much carbon dioxide you produce. There are many different carbon footprint calculators on the Web. You may want to try several of them to see if you get similar results. Some will only ask for major sources of carbon dioxide production, such as the amount of electricity you use or how many flights you take a year. Others get more granular.

You can find carbon footprint calculators for both individuals and companies. Using a carbon footprint calculator is also a good way to see what sort of activities contribute the most to carbon dioxide production.

Reducing your carbon footprint will require sacrifices. It may also require you to invest in alternative ways to generate electricity or travel.

Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint At Home

There are several steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint at home. Some involve making small adjustments in your lifestyle. Others may require you to purchase new appliances that are more efficient than your current devices.

Research your choices when it comes to electricity. Most utilities generate electricity through burning fossil fuels. However, some utility companies offer consumers the chance to purchase power from green, renewable sources such as solar or wind power.

Much of our energy consumption goes to heating and air conditioning. Make sure you replace your air filters often so that your heater and air conditioner will work efficiently. Draft-proof your windows and doors, too. When heating your home, try to maintain a lower temperature to conserve energy. Wearing a sweater or thicker socks is a more environmentally friendly choice than cranking up the heat.

When cooling your home, try using fans when possible. Fans tend to consume less electricity than air conditioning units. But if you're going to use an air conditioning unit, make sure it's the right size for the area of your home.

Because appliances can draw power even when they're turned off, it's a good idea to either unplug them when they aren't in use or purchase special power strips that kill all power after a period of non-use. This will prevent vampire power consumption. When purchasing a new appliance, shop around for energy-efficient models. Look for Energy Star ratings or similar standards.

Use fluorescent bulbs rather than incandescent bulbs. They use significantly less electricity. But be careful when disposing used fluorescent bulbs -- they contain dangerous chemicals. Also, make sure to turn off the lights when you leave a room.

Try to wash clothing in cold water whenever possible. It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Hanging clothes to dry will also conserve energy. On a related note, try to drip dry dishes. Avoid using heated dishwasher settings to dry them.

If you maintain your own lawn, consider purchasing a reel mower instead of a gas-powered lawnmower. They don't emit greenhouse gases, because these machines rely on physical work provided by you rather than by a motor.

Other good habits to develop including conserving water, composting organic garbage and recycling as much as you can.

Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint At Work

Offices can generate a great deal of carbon dioxide. Depending upon your workplace, you may be able to reduce your contribution to CO2 production.

Turn off the lights whenever possible. If you have your own office, this isn't hard to do. But you may not have a choice if you work in an open office environment -- not everyone cares to work in the dark.

Use occupancy sensors for rooms that only have occasional use. An occupancy sensor detects when someone walks into a room. The sensor triggers the lights for that space. After a period of inactivity, the lights turn off again automatically. This is ideal for supply rooms that aren't constantly occupied.

Use sleep mode on your computer if you're going to be away from your desk for a few minutes. Turn your computer completely off if you'll be gone for several hours.

Avoid generating waste paper whenever possible. Use electronic copies of documents instead. Paper production creates a lot of carbon dioxide. First, trees are natural carbon sinks -- cutting them down deprives us of their carbon-soaking abilities. It takes energy to cut down trees, transport them, process the wood into paper, transport the paper and then print a document. Conserving paper can save a lot of energy.

Recycle paper and other waste at work. If your workplace doesn't have a recycling program, start one. You may also want to look into purchasing recycled paper for printing needs.

Avoid using disposable cups or bottles. Instead, use a ceramic coffee cup, or a reusable bottle or canteen. You'll generate less waste and reduce your footprint in the process.

If possible, take public transportation or use a carpool to get to work. If you can walk or bike to work, that's even better.

It may seem like the efforts you take to reduce your carbon footprint are miniscule. But it's true that every little bit helps. It'll take more than conservation and energy efficiency to solve environmental problems, but without these changes, the problems will become worse -- and at a faster rate.