As part of Kohler Co.’s sustainability initiative, we are measuring energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste created at each of our facilities around the world. Our goal is to be net zero in greenhouse gas and solid waste by 2035. It’s an ambitious goal, but we have a network of people helping each facility identify ways to improve.
But what is my footprint? How much greenhouse gas do me and my family produce in our daily lives? How much water do we use? How much garbage do we throw away? Recently, I spent four weeks (March 6th through April 3rd) measuring this. Here’s what I learned:
The primary greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, CO2. It’s produced by burning fossil fuels. I burn natural gas to heat my house, and gasoline to power our cars. I also get electricity from the local power utility, which is primarily generated by burning coal. So after reading my meters at the start and finish, and saving gasoline receipts, I’m able to convert how much natural gas, gasoline, and electricity I bought into pounds of carbon dioxide.
Natural gas: 5,200 cubic feet x 0.117 = 608 lb. of CO2
Gasoline: 85 gallons x 19.4 = 1,649 lb. of CO2
Electricity*: 695 kWh x 1.7 = 1,182 lb. of CO2
TOTAL: 3,439 lb. of CO2, or 123 lb. per day.
The fact that we had a record-warm March in Milwaukee certainly kept this number lower than it would have otherwise been. But almost half of my family’s carbon dioxide emissions came from driving, something we do have some control over. I’ll certainly try to reduce that!
*My family voluntarily pays the utility a premium for 100% renewable energy, so this could be counted as zero emissions. But since the power we get actually comes mostly from coal, I didn’t factor this in.
We’ve used Kohler and Sterling high-efficiency toilets, faucets, and showerheads for years and love them! But last year, I purchased a new washing machine that really works well and uses very little water. So I expected our water use to be low. In fact, we used 2,340 gallons of water, or 21 gallons per person, per day. I did a similar water study a few years ago, and it was 42 then. The average in the US is about 70, and a new, water-efficient home is around 35, so we’re doing very well on minimizing water use. Of course, since I measured in early spring, there was no need to water the lawn.
My kids thought I was crazy, but I weighed every bag of garbage and recyclables for four weeks! The totals:
Garbage: 15 lbs.
Recycled materials: 80 lbs.
We have curbside recycling and they take paper, metal, PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastics. The majority of our recycling is newspapers. We recycle everything we can, and try not to purchase over-packaged products. But we still each produced nearly a pound of garbage per day. We can definitely do better.
Measuring my direct impacts only tells a small part of the story. All the things we buy—food, clothing, and household goods—create greenhouse gases, use water, and create solid waste during their manufacture and transportation. It’s much harder to measure this, but websites to help me estimate my impact are a great start.