How to calculate your carbon footprint

April 25, 2023

While the solar industry has been touting the financial benefits of going solar, solar energy doesn’t just lower your utility bills but also your carbon footprint.

Solar energy is a great way for homes and businesses to lower their carbon footprints. Solar panels provide a clean, renewable source of electricity that is becoming increasingly popular for homeowners and businesses. Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity with no harmful emissions, like greenhouse gases.

Homes and businesses that go solar can power their homes without relying on electricity companies that use fossil fuels. Not only do these fossil fuels combust and form carbon dioxide, but require extensive drilling or mining.

Enact is in the business of empowering clean energy consumers. We’ve helped thousands of customers go solar from California to Connecticut and in over 20 countries.

What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas produced by your actions or consumption that is significant to climate change. That greenhouse gas can be carbon dioxide, but also other gases like methane or nitrous oxide.

The average American has a carbon footprint of 16 tons, which is one of the highest in the world according to the Nature Conservatory. The average global carbon footprint is around four tons. Many scientists and policy-makers aim to reduce the average carbon footprint to two tons per year by 2050.

Reducing your carbon footprint does not happen overnight, but requires frequent small actions over time. The majority of an individual’s carbon footprint is from transportation, housing and food. Reducing your carbon footprint does not mean giving up these life essentials.

The science can be overwhelming and complex and there are still a lot of unknowns. Real solutions to combat climate change require global solutions, but your day-to-day actions matter. Personal decisions made every day not only benefit your own environment but when everybody does their part, things gradually improve.

Why do carbon footprints matter?

Carbon footprints matter to average consumers like you and me because they help us understand the impact of our daily actions on the environment. When we drive our car, use electricity, or consume food, we generate greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change.

By calculating our carbon footprint, we can identify areas where we can make changes to reduce our environmental impact. Without these changes, increasing global temperatures will destroy our coastal ecosystems, decrease available freshwater and worsen extreme weather.

Reducing our carbon footprint not only helps the environment, but it can also save us money in the long run by reducing our energy bills and transportation costs. Making sustainable choices can lead to a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle, such as by eating more plant-based foods, reducing waste and supporting local and sustainable businesses.

How to calculate your carbon footprint

The Nature Conservatory provides an amazing calculator that determines the carbon footprint of your household. All you need to do is input information about your lifestyle into their survey and it will determine your carbon footprint.

To get an accurate number, you will need the following information:

  1. Whether your car is gas or diesel, its mileage per gallon and how many miles you drive a year
  2. How many miles you’ve traveled by bus, train or plane
  3. How much you spend on electricity, natural gas and other heating fuel
  4. What percent purchased from a clean energy program
  5. How big your home is
  6. How much you spend on water
  7. What foods you eat and how much

Unfortunately, this tool does not have an option for electric vehicle owners. While this information might seem hard to obtain, a little digging through your monthly bills and an estimate of what you eat can bring clarity.

What going solar means for your carbon footprint

Going solar can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. By installing solar panels on your property, you can generate clean, renewable energy from the sun and reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels — such as coal, oil and gas — are major sources of carbon emissions. When these fuels are burned to generate electricity, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change.

Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy source that produces zero carbon emissions during operation. By generating your own electricity from solar panels, you can reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and lower your carbon footprint.

Columbia University wrote that an acre of solar panels, producing zero-emissions electricity, saves between 121-138 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average forest acre offsets 0.84 metric tons per year.

But what about the carbon footprints of solar panels? The average solar panel system’s carbon footprint is between 14-73 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. The average emissions of burning oil is around 742 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour. 

When taking into account transportation, remember solar panels can last for 25 years or more. Sources on the internet vary, but the carbon payback period of a residential solar system can be less than two years.

The amount of carbon emissions you save by going solar depends on a number of factors, such as the size of your solar installation, your energy usage and the amount of sunshine your location receives.

Ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Reducing your carbon footprint at home is an important step in addressing climate change. Some of these items may be more difficult, but everyone can do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Here are some ways homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint.

Go Solar: Yes, we may be biased — but going solar provides clean, zero-emission electricity to power your home. Enact can help homeowners go solar in around two months! Solar panels produce no greenhouse gas and don’t require water. Plus solar panels can be installed on your roof and power your home.

Energy-Efficient Appliances: Consider finding energy efficient appliances to reduce electricity and water consumption — which saves the earth and can save you money! When you need newer appliances, consider upgrading to energy-efficient ones with the Energy Star label.

LED Lighting: Replace your incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs. LED bulbs are energy efficient, last longer and use less electricity. It’s that simple.

Insulation: Ensure your home is properly insulated from hot and cold temperatures. Proper insulation reduces your need for air conditioning and heating. This ultimately saves you money and energy. Make sure your walls, roof and windows are insulated.

Drive Less: You don’t have to get rid of your car to go green. Instead, consider carpooling, taking public transportation or riding your bike. This helps reduce vehicle emissions from exhaust.

This might be tough, but the New York Times says you can also make sure you service your car regularly, go easy on the gas and brakes and check your tire pressure more often.

Eat less meat: Not all foods are equally good for the planet. Try reducing your consumption of meat — especially red meat — and dairy products. You don’t have to be vegan to make a difference. Try eating more fruits and veggies, consider meatless Mondays or buying local food.

Other easy ways to go green include wasting less food and composting vegetable and fruit food scraps.

Recycle properly: This one may seem obvious, because recycling allows us to reuse resources. But not everything can be recycled which makes our recycling infrastructure more inefficient. Always check what can and can’t be recycled in your area. Some things might surprise you.

Beyond your local municipal recycling scheme, many businesses and nonprofits offer recycling services for items such as clothing, fabrics and even electronics.

The moral of the story

Wherever you are in life, you can make a difference to lower your carbon footprint and improve the world around you. Small changes to your life may seem insignificant, but build up over time. If you recycled every soup can, think of how much you saved from the landfill. Properly insulating your home may seem like a lot of work upfront, but the money it will save you over time adds up.

Solar is just like that. It is an investment that requires time and money, but Enact experts are ready to answer any questions you have. Going solar not only makes the world a better place, but can save you thousands of dollars across its lifetime. Thirty minutes talking with our energy experts could save you thousands on utility bills and offset tons of carbon emissions.

Schedule a call today to learn more about going solar. We help family households and small businesses go solar from design to post-installation monitoring through the Enact Home app.