Someone living on the isthmus who bikes to work will have lower transportation emissions than somebody else who drives 20 miles to and from work each day. Similarly, a household that eats mostly a plant-based diet will have lower food emissions than a household that eats red meat twice a day. Those who are conscious about their household energy usage tend to have lower household energy emissions than neighbors who leave all the lights on. But how does this all add up?
You might be surprised by how much emissions vary by zip code. The image on the right is a snapshot of estimated household carbon emissions by zip code across our region of the United States. The green areas have lower annual emissions per household and the red areas have higher emissions. Click on the image to explore this further.
So what about your household? Our household emissions calculator will let you estimate your emissions and see how those emissions compare to others in your zip code.
Once you've calculated your emissions you can identify opportunities to reduce those emissions. A household with high household energy use will have different priorities than a household where most of the emissions come from transportation. No matter what your profile, the resources on this page can help you make simple changes that enable you to be part of the solution.
Most of us don't think much about energy use at home because it just happens. We wake up thinking about breakfast, not the electricity powering our coffee pot or the refigerator keeping our milk and yogurt cold. Because it's not top of mind we can easily overlook simple ways to minimize energy waste.
The two strategies for reducing energy waste at home include:
You might remember a parent telling you to turn off lights when you were a kid. They were right! Similarly, why heat or cool an empty apartment or to leave a television on when no one's watching it?
Choosing the efficient model matters--whether it's a refrigerator, a light bulb or a computer. The easiest way to find energy efficient products is to look for the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR is a federally-funded labeling program that identifies the products that are most efficient in their category. You'll find the label on dishwashers, on televisions and even on light bulbs. All ENERGY STAR products are tested for performance as well as efficiency so you'll get a quality item that uses less energy. You can learn more at the ENERGY STAR website where there are calculators to help you estimate savings associated with certain purchases.
Focus on Energy is Wisconsin's statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program. Focus on Energy offers technical assistance and incentives to help you be more energy efficient. Specifically:
Whether you own your home or rent an apartment, Focus on Energy has programs to help you reduce energy use.
Multiple Dane County electric and gas utilities have online resources that can help you undertand and manage your energy usage. Seeing how your usage compares can be a good way to motivate change. Your utility might have special features available when you register online and visit the "My Account" features; in some cases you will be able to see more data about how your usage compares to similar homes. In addition, local utilities have tools that anyone can access such as:
For most Americans, the two big sources of emissions in our lives are where we live and how we move around our communities. The United States is a car culture--in many instances we've built our communities to accommodate cars over people. This is particularly true in frontline communities where highways have cut through neighborhoods, increasing pollution and reducing pedestrian safety. Our affinity for driving has negative health impacts as well as environmental and economic impacts.
What can you do?
The local RoundTrip website is a great resource for alternatives to driving alone.
The EPA estimates that if Americans opted to bike or walk instead of driving just half the time when the trip was less than 1 mile we'd drive 5 billion fewer miles annually. If it's a short trip - 3 blocks to the gym, for example, walk or bike instead of driving when you can.
You might also want to explore options for biking to school or work. Use this map to find a safe and enjoyable route.
There are, of course, health benefits to walking or biking instead of driving. You might be surprised to know, though, that even transit riders are more physically active than typical drivers. Increased physical activity correlates, of course, with better health outcomes.
Finally, tele-commuting has become an increasingly viable option for many people in Dane County. Working from home eliminates the commute and any associated stress entirely.
Did you know that simple eco-driving techniques can increase your fuel economy by 20% or more? If you have to drive, then drive smart and maximize the miles you get from each gallon of gas. Effective techniques include:
Each of these simple actions can increase your fuel economy 3-5% and, better still, all of these actions are free.
It's also smart to match your vehicle to your needs. If you drive 40 miles or more daily to and from work then it makes sense to have a hybrid electric vehicle rather than an inefficient truck or SUV, especially if you do not have a need for hauling capacity. Transitioning from a vehicle that gets 18 mpg to one that gets 40 mpg or more will cut your gas usage in half, resulting in significant savings.
If you are thinking about getting a different vehicle--new or used--consider an electric vehicle (EV). EVs are an affordable, low-maintenance, clean energy option. Learn more about the benefits of EVs:
Most effective, though, is to talk to an existing EV owner. Likely they will tell you that their EV is quiet, clean and low-maintenance. And if they offer you ride you'll probably be surprised at the torque--an EV has more pep than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
Everything we buy--from cleaning products to baseballs to electronics--requires energy to produce. What's more, some items also produce emissions when we use them. Most clothing, for example, has more emissions associated with use than the production of the item due to washing and drying. For a great overview, check out this dataset of product emissions from computers to blue jeans.
To reduce emissions associated with the goods and services you use, some good rules of thumb include:
In addition to everyday purchases, think through the impacts of big purchases you make, such as your home, car, and remodeling projects. When we face big purchases we tend to focus on the sticker price, but equally important is the ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
Focus on Energy has great resources to help you find an energy efficient home or a contractor to ensure that your remodeling project will increase the efficiency of your home. Whenever you are making a big purchase, ask about efficiency. How does the model you are looking at compare to other models? What are the estimated annual operating costs? Being a smart shopper can ensure that your emissions are lower front the onset.
According to Project Drawdown, a global analysis of strategies for reducing emissions, two of the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions are:
Just as there are emissions embedded in other goods and services, emissions are embedded in food. And of course the amount of emissions varies with meat having a higher carbon footprint per calorie than plants. That's the impetus for recommending a diet rich in plants.
Most important, though, is to reduce food waste. Experts estimate that about one-third of all food produced is wasted. The waste is a result of multiple issues: some produce is damaged in transit and doesn't make it to the grocery story, ugly vegetables are often tossed at the field, and as consumers we buy food that spoils before we get around to eating it.
In addition to reducing waste, composting leftover organic materials is another way to reduce your footprint. If you don't have space to compost in your backyard, you can sign up for a compost service like Green Box, which will take your food scraps for composting. And if you're near Madison you can drop off your food scraps at two locations this summer:
Check out other the great tips for reducing food waste on our blog.
Although you may be familiar with the idea of electric vehicles, you may be less familiar with all-electric buildings. Electric buildings do not use natural gas at all. Instead, electric buildings use electricity to power everything, including heating space and water and, yes, cooking.
An efficient all-electric building can be coupled with on-site solar to become a net zero energy building, which is a building that annually produces as much energy as it consumes. Typically, these buildings are still connected to the electric grid and might feed surplus solar power into the grid during the day and draw back power from the grid at night. For more on net zero energy buildings, check out the guide and checklist that Eau Claire, WI developed here for readying buildings to become net-zero.
Efficient all-electric buildings often feature heat pumps to provide heating and cooling. A heat pump might sound unfamiliar but you already have one in your kitchen: a refrigerator uses a heat pump to cool your food! Buildings can utilize either ground source or air source heat pumps. Ground source heat pumps circulate fluid through pipes underground. In contrast, air source heat pumps use electricity to pull outside air inside or outside depending on the season.
Air source heat pumps are conventionally used in residential houses, as compared to ground source heat pumps, which require a large outdoor footprint and drilling deep underground, and therefore are more typically used commercially. Air source heat pumps have provided heating and cooling to buildings in the central United States for decades. Now, this technology is gaining traction in the upper Midwest as technology advancements have resulted in cold-climate air source heat pumps that can work in cold climates. Learn more about heat pump technology here and here.
Because heat pumps provides both heating and cooling it will replace both the furnace and the central air conditioner in a typical Wisconsin home. In addition to a heat pump for heating and cooling, an all-electric home often features a second heat pump water heater and an electric induction stove. In fact, just as heat pumps are substantial improvements over the inefficient electric resistance heating, many cooks prefer electric induction stoves over both gas and electric stoves.
Learn more about how Dane County residents are using heat pump technology in their own homes.
• Install a renewable energy system on your home or property, or
• Purchase green power from your electric utility.
When consumers install renewable energy they typically install solar electric (photovoltaic) systems. A wind turbine might also be an option if you are in a rural setting in Dane County.
The local MadiSUN program helps consumers determine if solar energy will work on their home, offering a group-buy discount on systems. There are also multiple private solar installers active in Dane County. See a list of vendors from the Solar Energy Industries Association. In addition, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's annual Energy Fair is a great opportunity to talk to installers and learn about renewable energy technologies.
Like most states, Wisconsin has laws that protect a household’s right to install a solar energy system on their property. Under state statute municipalities can require a homeowner to secure a permit for the solar installation and homeowner’s associations can set design guidelines for solar installations, provided these do not “prevent or unduly restrict the construction and operation of solar energy systems.” Learn more.
Typically when a homeowner installs a solar electric system the house remains connected to the local electric grid. During some sunny hours during the day, the solar array might produce more power than the home uses—in that case excess power is exported back to the local grid and the utility gives the customer credit for this power. Then, at night, when the solar array is not producing power, the house will use power from the grid. The specifics of net metering arrangements vary from utility to utility; your solar installer can help you to size your solar array to optimize the benefits for your household given the net metering policies of your local electric utility.
Focus on Energy offers information and incentives for solar energy projects.
Additionally, some households may qualify for federal tax credits on their solar installation. The Department of Energy maintains a guide to solar tax credits for homeowners.
Additionally, you can typically opt to purchase green power from your utility for a small premium. This option works well for people in apartments or with homes that are not suitable for solar. Learn more about your utility's green power offerings:
In our Climate Action Plan we set a goal of 1200 MW of solar installed in Dane County by 2030. Whether you install a system on your own house or buy green power from your utility, you are helping us achieve this important goal.
If you are new to climate science or just want a refresher, these resources will be helpful.
Your climate impact multiplies when you get your friends and family engaged in reducing their emissions too.
First and foremost, to talk to your friends, family and colleagues about your commitment to climate action. People signal what matters to them through conversations--so make sure people know you care about climate action!