How to succeed in environmentalism without really trying

Organic food, LEED-certified buildings, and hybrid cars have very minimal real impacts on carbon emissions.  Even more negligible is the impact of compact fluorescent light bulbs, reusable shopping bags, and “perfect” recycling compliance.

I was lucky to see Graham Hill, founder of the environmental blog Treehugger, talk about “how to easily cut your carbon in half while saving time and money” at the Gel Conference a few years ago.

While not directly related to the retail business, supermarkets are a major factor in our country’s environmental impact and many, if not most, have undertaken ways to reduce their footprints.  I found it very enlightening to hear some concrete numbers around what changes we can make to truly have an impact on our carbon emissions.

In short, the average American emits 20 tons of carbon per year.  Here’s how you can get the quickest savings:

  1. Become a weekday vegetarian.  Savings: 1 ton of carbon and $365 per year, plus 6 hours of time and improved health.
  2. Be a conscious flyer: avoid cross-country and intercontinental flights.  Savings: 1 to 10 tons of carbon per flight, plus $700+ and hours and hours of travel time and stress.
  3. The easiest! Buy green power: sign up for renewable energy sources from your power company. Savings: 4+ tons of carbon, depending on where you live, but it will increase the price of your power bill.

It’s an easy 20 minute video to watch, with the first 8 minutes as background on the problem followed by more on the three solutions above.

Just a few steps can cut 50% of your carbon impact.

More details and a fantastic talk at Gel 2009’s video page.