Understand your emissions (so you know where you can make the biggest impact)
Household energy use (stop wasting money on energy you aren't using!)
Food (what you eat matters more than you might think)
Other goods and services (everything has emissions)
Big Purchases - new home, new car, remodeling project (make smart choices!)
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. Folks 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 while the red areas have higher emissions. (Click on the image to explore this further...it's pretty cool!)
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 your best 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, it can be easy to overlook simple ways to minimize energy waste. After all, when you waste energy it's akin to burning your hard-earned money and nobody wants to do that!
In general, there are two big strategies for reducing energy waste at home:
You might remember a parent telling you to turn off lights when you were a kid and they were right: it doesn't make sense to light empty rooms. It also doesn't make sense to heat or cool an empty apartment or to leave a television on when no one's watching it. Get into the habit of turning things off when not in use.
It's also important to choose the efficient model--whether 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 terrific 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 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 that sips gasoline rather than an inefficient truck or SUV that guzzles it, 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--which is 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. There are more EV models at more price points available all the time. Learn more about the benefits of EVs:
Most effective, though, is to talk to an existing EV owner. It's 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.
Implementing any of these tips can help you drive down your emissions.
Everything we buy--from cleaning products to baseballs to electronics--requires energy to produce. More, some items also produce emissions when we use them--most clothing, for example, has more emissions associated with use (due to washing and drying) than the production of the item. 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:
Being smarter about what we buy and how we use it can reduce emissions.
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, there are emissions 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. One-third. 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.
Check out the great tips for reducing food waste in our blog.
Ideally you'll think about sustainability in all the decisions you make. It's especially important to think about it when you are making big decisions--like about where to live or the car to drive. When we face big purchases we tend to focus on the sticker price but equally important is maintenance costs. An electric vehicle, for example, might cost a little more to buy but it also costs a lot less to own because there's less maintenance and lower fuel costs. In some cases the more efficient model might not even cost more. In Wisconsin very energy efficient homes are typically comparable in price to less efficient homes--which means you can get utility savings and more comfort for the same price if you shop smart.
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.
Consumers have two opportunities to power their homes with renewable energy. You can:
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.
RENEW Wisconsin's MadiSUN program helps consumers determine if solar energy will work on their home, offering a group-buy discount on systems. (In 2020 the program is open to residents across Dane County.) There are also multiple private solar installers active in Dane County (see a list of vendors from the Solar Energy Industries Association) and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's annual Energy Fair is a great opportunity to talk to installers and learn about renewable energy technologies.
Focus on Energy also offers information and some incentives for solar energy projects.
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.
There are also a variety of local groups that host events about climate change. Search out opportunities to learn more and get involved!