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Reducing my family’s carbon footprint

Here’s a first blog on my efforts to reduce my family’s carbon footprint to a sustainable level. To reduce it I need to measure it, and this is a lot harder than I had ever expected. The first instalment of my efforts to calculate my family’s footprint and become (more) climate positive will hopefully provide you with some of the tools you need to do the same.

The Singapore government is fantastic with online publishing of data. And the Climate Change Secretariat tells me that Singapore emits a little under 9 tonnes of CO2 per year per capita. On first inspection, this seems very positive, less than half the US per capita figure.

But digging into this number, I discovered it isn’t the average footprint of a Singaporean. It is the total emissions of Singapore (excluding international transport) divided by the number of people. The carbon emitted in the process of growing food in other countries and then shipping the edibles to Singapore isn’t included. As the food chain contributes about 25% of global emissions and Singapore imports 90% of its food, and as the average Singaporean takes more than three flights out of Changi a year, there were going to be a few sizeable differences between the 9 tonne figure and the average footprint of a resident.

On top of this, I don’t own a car, but I probably fly more than most, so my individual footprint likely would be very different to the average. The journey on which I commenced was not pretty.

I set about trying to calculate our family’s carbon footprint. Despite their being innumerable footprint calculators online, after a lot of googling, all seem to make assumptions that were just not be valid for me.

For example, the carbon calculator touts itself as the world’s most popular. However, it suggested that my electricity usage produced only 2.21 tonnes of carbon a year. A quick calculation using Energy Market Authority data showed that in fact my family is responsible for over five tonnes of emissions.

The Polish government do a good calculator, but it calculated that we emitted 11 tonnes of CO2 from air conditioning. As this is a subset of electricity, this was way off too.

It seemed the only solution was going to be understand the key contributions to a carbon footprint and then calculate each part separately based on data specific to Singapore and specific to our family.

The main constituent parts for a family seem to be five segments:

  1. Transport
  2. Food
  3. Consumption (iphones, clothes..)
  4. Energy (electricity, gas..)
  5. Society as a whole (government, police, hospitals, water supply, road building..)

I’ve split food down into that eaten at home and in restaurants, and transport into flights, public transport and taxis.

My current best guess is that my family emit a whopping 50 tonnes of carbon a year. Sustainability advice is to emit 2 tonnes per person per year. So we need to find ways to cut about 85% of this if we want to be sustainable.

I’ve made a million assumptions in formulating this, which I expect will be refined as my understanding grows. If you’re interested in the calculations and assumptions behind these figures, I’ve written a separate blog on it here.

We cannot impact the ‘Society as a whole’ footprint, which represents the government, police, hospitals, water supply, road building etc. So I’ll assume we need to cut everything else to be sustainable. It would be impossible to do this without employing offsetting or carbon capture to some degree – we would not be able to eat.

My goal is to change the world, not my day. I want to cut as much as I can as cheaply as I can and then offset the rest.

So where to begin

The easiest place to start is electricity. Singapore has recently deregulated the electricity market, so am switching to a 100% solar tariff. This cut 5 tonnes out and actually saves me 290SGD/year.

Flights are another huge chunk. And because the emissions are higher in the atmosphere, the non-CO2 components are even more impactful, around twice as much so. I still want to see places and as much as I would love to, I don’t want to change my lift to give me time to take the train everywhere, so there are two tangible ways to make a difference here.

  1. Travel only on efficient aircraft. The calculations are based on an ‘average’ aircraft, Using only the most efficient Boeing 787, 777 and Airbus A350/320/330 reduces carbon emissions by about a quarter.
  2. Take only direct flights. 25% of the emissions on a flight occur during take off and landing. Flying direct (assuming the plane is mostly full) is more efficient per passenger.

I’ve decided to take both these options and offset the remaining 11-12 tonnes using goldstandard.org where I support a project providing clean water filters to families in Laos enabling them to avoid burning wood to boil the water to make it potable. This costs me 144SGD/year.

With just these two actions we have eliminated or offset 20 tonnes of annual emissions, 40% of our total. We’ve also saved net 134SGD/year.

In the next blog, I’ll look at how to more accurately measure and then reduce the consumption and food segments – the next largest contributors.

Key takeaways

The easiest ways to cut your carbon footprint and change your day and not your life if you live in SIngapore are:

  • Switch electricity providers to a 100% renewable supplier
  • Fly on airlines that use Boeing 787/777 or Airbus A350/330/320s. Avoid Boeing 747s or Airbus 380s. Offset the remainder of your emissions, including the radioactive forcing, when you fly.