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How big is your carbon footprint?

How big is your carbon footprint?
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First Published: Thu, Jun 04 2009. 11 57 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Jun 05 2009. 11 04 AM IST
Manvel Alur, 41, is a passionate votary of the green cause. She runs a Bangalore-based consultancy firm that advises businesses on minimizing their environmental impact.
Recently, Alur calculated her carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by her personal activities. To her dismay, her carbon footprint was as high as 6.45 tonnes of CO2 a year (tCO2/y), compared with an Indian average of 1.25 tCO2/y and a world average of 4 tCO2/y.
“The high carbon footprint is a result of all the travel that comes as a part of my work,” says Alur, who spoke of a personal target of 2 tCO2/y she has set herself at a presentation to the TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs, a global non-profit network) Clean Tech Special Interest Group in March 2009. “I have now switched to conference calls. My road travel too will need to be substituted by walking or public transport.”
For her 12-point plan, see What You Can Easily Do.
The debate on global warming is gathering steam across political boundaries. The impact of climate change on human health is a main driver of the green movement: increased incidence of heat stress and respiratory illness and spread of vector- and rodent-borne diseases are listed by experts and watchdogs as key fallouts.
For instance, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increase in communicable diseases will mean that malaria will spread from the plains to higher altitudes in India. In 2003, heat waves in Andhra Pradesh caused at least 3,000 deaths; 18 heat waves were reported in the country between 1980 and 1998.
Much of the effort to combat climate change has to come from governments. India has recognized this through a National Action Plan on Climate Change 2008, which aims for large-scale solar power generation and reduced carbon emissions by industry, which now accounts for nearly 31% of India’s total.
Image: ConceptualPictures.com
But, there is much that can be done by individuals. Major emission points within a home include energy use for heating or cooling, lighting and fuel. Transport, ranging from commutes to air travel, is a big contributor to carbon emissions. Road transport accounts for 10% of individual carbon footprints. Household waste is another big one.
Biodiversity Conservation India Ltd (BCIL), a company that builds energy-efficient housing, conducted a survey (BCIL ECO-PULSE, March 2009) of power consumption patterns among middle-class households in Bangalore. Nearly 75% of the respondents had switched to energy-saving CFL lights, yet, around 50% did not turn off TVs or fill washing machines to full capacity.
Here are five such small challenges you could take up, which make a significant difference.
1. Do you compost?
If you are still tipping your household waste into municipal bins, know that biodegradable waste cannot degrade in landfills.
Burning waste is a carbon menace, as is transportation to treatment sites. Mixing up waste renders several recyclables unrecyclable. Solve the problem at source. To start, just follow a rigorous plan of segregating waste into wet and dry, says Alur, who also had a home composting unit installed.
Companies such as Daily Dump (Dailydump.org) offer products and services. Developers such as BCIL and Good Earth Homes have community composting units on campus to handle household waste generated by all residents.
2. Do you track your household energy use?
It is important to have a full-fledged energy audit for homes, similar to what is being done for workspaces and public utilities, Alur says. Unfortunately, energy audit services for individuals are yet to take off in India. However, even a simple self-audit of energy use helps. Hidden electricity wastage (television sets and geysers left switched on, phone chargers that stay plugged in, microwaves never turned off at source) contribute more to the meter’s ticking than active appliances.
Just how much carbon dioxide do you emit when you fly? Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
3. Do you make your own solar power?
Power generation contributes 25% of all carbon emissions, the single largest contributor to global warming. Solar water heaters are the most popular green power products for homes. There are multiple suppliers, ranging from Tata BP Solar India Ltd and Selco Solar Pvt. Ltd to small local companies, all of whom can rig you up with rooftop solutions that heat 100-400 litres of water a day. Typically a 400-litre device installed in a newly built home costs Rs35,000-40,000.
4. Do you harvest water?
Even if your municipality does not make rainwater harvesting mandatory for new buildings—unlike Bangalore and New Delhi—water harvesting makes sense.
Organizations such as Frogg.in or the Bangalore Rainwater Club (Rainwaterclub.org) offer consultations and design systems ranging from those that recharge groundwater to those that also recycle grey water (domestic waste water).
5. Do you carpool?
Commuting adds to your carbon footprint, shows a carbon footprint calculator at Commuteeasy.com, a website that encourages carpools in Indian cities. “There are about 10,000 users now over 300 carpools that have been set up,” says Vipual Kasera, founder, Commute Easy. “Companies like Netapp, Wipro, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco are setting up enterprise carpool solutions for employees through CommuteEasy.”
What you can easily do
1. Turn off lights and appliances not in use: they use 10-40% of their total power consumption on standby.
2. Fill a kettle with exactly as much water as you need for your drink.
3. Don’t leave fridge doors open longer than you can help.
4. Maintain recommended tyre pressure in personal vehicles for optimal fuel efficiency.
5. Bring your own cloth bag for shopping and avoid buying products which use too much plastic.
6. Instead of running air conditioners, wear lightweight garments and use a fan.
7. Minimize transport. Piggyback weekly errands into a single car trip. Pay your bills online. Walk, bike, take a bus or carpool whenever possible.
8. You consume up to 25% less fuel if you drive at not more than 90km an hour.
9. An electric car emits less carbon dioxide, a bicycle none.
10. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL) or light-emitting diodes. CFLs cost three-five times what traditional bulbs do, but use less than a third of the power. Make sure new appliances are energy-efficient.
11. Choose food produced locally to reduce emissions from transport.
12. Consume less.
5 ways to the extra low-carbon mile
1. Replacing five incandescent bulbs that you use for five hours a day with CFLs reduces carbon emissions by about 250kg CO2 per year.
2. Switching off just five 60W lights in your home saves about 270kg CO2 per year.
3. Drying clothes on a line instead of a tumble dryer saves 280kg of CO2 a year.
4. Turning off the tap while brushing teeth saves about 3kg of CO2 a year.
5. Fixing a dripping tap saves about 20kg of CO2 per year.
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First Published: Thu, Jun 04 2009. 11 57 PM IST