Sustainability Goals for 2013: Getting the numbers down

January is the time of year for goal-setting and resolutions. I’m certainly no stranger to setting annual fitness goals, and through years of trial, error, and small successes I have hands-on proof of what every fitness coach or nutritionist tells his or her clients: The people who are most successful in achieving their goals are the ones who write it all down, and pay attention to the numbers. The business corollary would be something like “People pay attention to what is measured.” (Didn’t somebody famous say something like that?)

As 2013 approached I became increasingly agitated and even depressed about climate change. There were many contributing factors, not the least of which was the incessant drizzle that replaced the snow that we should have been having in southern Wisconsin as the holiday lights went up. I grew sullen when I needed to drive, and there were times when I wanted to scream at strangers taking long showers at my athletic club, but in the rational portion of my brain I knew I needed to focus on positive steps I could take to reduce my energy consumption.

Over the years, at home we’ve tried to reduce our fossil impact a little bit at a time. We keep our thermostat low, we insulated our house, we switched to CFL bulbs, our appliances are energy efficient, we use the clothes line (our “solar dryer”), etc. I have a long commute, but my car gets about 45 mpg. However we live close to my husband’s job, and he’s able to bicycle to work much of the year. But even with everything we try to do, we of course still use more fossil fuel than the planet can sustain. (Did I mention how much we fly?) So what could I do?

In keeping with the holiday spirit, my first recourse was retail therapy. I turned to Terrapass to see what kind of temporary reprieve I could buy.  I tallied up our flight segments (don’t ask), estimated miles driven in  each of our two cars, and used Terrapass’ online calculator for our home energy consumption.  I then entered my credit card number to purchase enough carbon offsets, in the form of methane capture projects, to assuage the most obvious portions of our 2012 impact.  It felt so good that a few days later I returned to the website to buy holiday gifts for much of my extended family. My mood was definitely improving but I was well aware that my work was not done.

For 2013 my husband and I want to reduce our energy use further, but like with any successful diet, we need to pay attention to the numbers.  I have a general sense that our bills have come down over in recent years, especially since our home energy audit and insulation in 2009, but I had no idea how our energy use really stacked up.

Knowing that this day was likely to come, I still have all of our utility bills dating back to August 2000 when we moved to Wisconsin. I entered our gas and electric use into a spreadsheet and started to graph and calculate. The graphs below show a general trend down in our use, including a 48% reduction in electric use and a 40% reduction in natural gas use over the twelve years. The bulk of our natural gas reductions occurred during winter months, presumably in part because of our improved insulation and in part because of warming winters.



Using the phenomenal resources available from the Energy Information Administration, I was able to translate that into approximate tons of carbon dioxide released.  In 2012, we used 5,756 kWh of electricity in our home.  EIA stated that for electricity from coal, which is the majority of what our utility uses, 2.1 pounds of CO2 are emitted per kWh, so approximately 12,000 pounds or 6 tons of CO2 were emitted on our behalf.  Our natural gas use total for the year was 687 therms which, at 11.7 pounds of CO2 per therm, generated approximately 8.000 pounds of CO2 or 4.0 tons.  Now that I know the numbers, I can start to track progress in bringing them down further.


Stay tuned for updates!

In the meantime it turns out that I’ve actually been engaging in retail therapy for my environmental guilt for quite some time.  For most of the time we’ve lived here, we’ve paid a premium to WE Energies, our utility, to purchase 100% renewable energy through Energy for Tomorrow.  So this year we paid twice, once to WE Energies and once to Terrapass.  If only solving all of the climate’s challenges were as simple as using a credit card.

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