Most people know their financial footprint in the world, but probably couldn’t tell you their carbon footprint on the planet.
Earth Day celebrations, which happen every year on April 22, remind us that we are responsible for keeping the planet clean, healthy and vibrant enough to support the billions living here.
The average carbon footprint for an American household is around 48 tons, by far the highest in the world. In fact, scientists estimate it would take four planet earths to house everyone, if the whole world lived like the average American.
Fortunately, they don’t.
Even more fortunately, most Americans are aware we could do the world (and ourselves) a favor by reducing our carbon footprint and there are economic incentives for doing so.
Here are some financially rewarding and environmental-friendly ways to do that:
Change A Daily Habit
Do you leave lights on? Let the water run while brushing your teeth? Throw out leftovers? Drink bottled water?
These are a few of 25 or so every day habits that cost you and the environment, but are easy to change. Turning off the lights (6 cents daily) and water (1 cent daily) are not financially rewarding, but are good habits that demonstrate you’re aware of your carbon footprint.
Leftovers and bottled water are another story.
Americans spend $165 billion a year on food that that doesn’t get eaten. It gets prepared, packaged and delivered, but not eaten.
The news on water is worse. It takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce the 30 billion bottles of water consumed in the U.S. The average American buys 137 bottles of water a year at $1.45 a bottle.
If you paid the same amount for tap water that you do for bottled water, your average bill would be about $9,000 a month. Change some habits and save a fortune.
Plant A Tree!
Everyone knows that trees absorb carbon dioxide (bad guy) and produce oxygen (good guy), which makes this the most common sense approach to reducing one’s carbon footprint.
It’s also one of the cheapest. It should cost somewhere between $5 and $25 to buy a small, hearty tree that will grow and produce enormous shade for homes and buildings, not to mention oxygen for the people in them.
The U.S. Forest Service says that one tree produces enough oxygen to supply two people for a year. Shade from trees reduces air conditioning needs by 30 percent. Planting one tree per year would give us all some shade and breathing room from our carbon footprint.
Recycle, Restore, Re-use
Almost everything we make or use in the home or office has a second life, if we recycle. The problem is getting people to think of ways to recycle.
Families can stage yard sales to find a second home for toys, bicycles, games, clothes, kitchen items and furniture. Businesses can go paperless, recycle ink, furniture and computers.
Consumers can buy recycled items in stores like backpacks, patio furniture, cotton clothing, bikes, scarfs, purses and glassware. Paper from the recycle bin becomes paper plates, phone books, kitty litter, cardboard boxes, tissues and paper towels.
In other words, there is plenty of money to be made and spent on recycled items.
Ride This Way
Driving is universally recognized as the single biggest polluter for the average person, not to mention a strain on a lot of people’s wallet. The AAA says that the average cost of driving a vehicle 15,000 miles a year is 59.2 cents, or about $8,876.
Hybrids and plug-in vehicles work with the environment, but not necessarily with the wallet yet. The fastest way to save money and the planet is walk, bicycle or use public transportation in place of a car. Unfortunately, there are only a few cities in the U.S. where that is practical.
Most places require a car and if that is the case, then carpool. Splitting $8,876 two or even three ways is a great incentive to carpool. If you don’t know anyone going the same place at the same time, call your local transit agency and ask about their ridesharing program.
Better yet, ask your boss about tele-commuting. A computer and internet access is all you need and a car becomes optional.
Solar is Rising
Solar energy is every environmentalist’s dream, and also the dream of consumers burned out on monthly electric bills. So why hasn’t everyone gone solar?
The problem, consumers say, is the initial cost of installation.
No one can agree on the “average cost” of solar energy installation, but the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says it has dropped 50 percent in the last five years. The SEIA also said that the number of homes with solar has risen from 15,500 in 2004 to 600,000 in 2014.
The federal government gives a 30 percent tax credit for installation and state and local utility commissions also have rebate programs that add incentives to the mix.
So, depending on where you live, solar may save you money and trim you carbon footprint, which is the real bottom line on Earth Day.