Green Guidance

Green Guidance

Shed That Excess Carbon!

In October, a groundbreaking report from Britain warned that it's almost too late to avoid climate catastrophe, but that countries can help if they're willing to spend just 1 percent of world GDP to do so. While most individuals can't build more public transport or wind-power plants, they can invest in greater energy efficiency and spend less time on the road.

Although the United States leads the world in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Australia's per capita emissions (at over 26 metric tons) are even higher than Americans' 24 tons. Canada produces 23.7 tons per person, Russia 14 tons, and the United Kingdom 11 tons, while most Africans generate less than a ton annually. For those of us producing the most GHGs, the first steps to lowering our emissions can be easy and cheap:

  • Take public transport to work. The average U.S. car emits 7.3 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, or about half an American's yearly GHG output. Offset unavoidable driving emissions by supporting alternative energy projects (
  • Line-dry clothes instead of using a dryer. CO2savings: 656 kilograms (kg) a year. Where outdoor drying is a challenge, try indoor racks (,
  • Turn down your gas heater. CO2savings: approximately 286 kg a year for each degree dropped between 21° and 16° C (315 pounds for each degree between 70° and 60° F).
  • Replace or adjust your refrigerator. Fridges from 2000 and earlier can produce 427-756 kg of CO2annually. In 2001, average CO2production from U.S. fridges dropped to 344 kg per unit, and in 2006, it fell to 301 kg. Save up to 189 kg a year by checking door seals, switching to power-save mode, using a cooler location, defrosting, and raising the thermostat from 2.7° to 4.4° C (37° to 40° F).
  • Set your water heater at 49° C (120° F). CO2savings: up to 113 kg a year.
  • Wash clothes in cool water. CO2savings: 73 kg a year.

These savings are averages and may be even greater in locations that draw most of their energy from coal power. The average U.S. conversion factor is .61 kg/kilowatthour, according to the Energy Information Administration, though coal-reliant North Dakota's factor is 1.02 kg/kwh.

Other switches to consider:

  • Lighting: Swapping a 75-watt bulb for a 20-watt compact fluor­escent will save about 334 kg of CO2over the bulb's lifetime (
  • Appliances: When replacing older units, particularly fridges and air conditioners, choose Energy Star-certified and equivalent models, which can use 10 percent less energy than standard models (
  • Getting Around: Bikes and electric scooters can be good alternatives to driving, with many options available (,,,,, And while we can't drive our way to zero emissions, some cars, particularly hybrids and electrics, produce less than others. To compare the emissions of different models and for other energy-saving tips, see
  • Green Energy: In some markets consumers can sign up with a utility that relies on hydropower, windpower, or other sources that don't contribute to global warming. If not, you may be able to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset your electricity consumption. For U.S. green power utilities and REC retailers, see For guarantees that the energy you buy is truly green, look for Green-e certified utilities ( In Australia, you can sign up though the Green Power national accreditation website at In Canada, green energy providers can be found at
  • Travel: Take trains where possible-a single roundtrip flight can produce as much CO2as a year's worth of driving. Flying roundtrip from London to New York, for example, can produce 3.8 tons of CO2per passenger. When jet travel is unavoidable, balance the GHGs produced by supporting alternative energy projects (,,
  • Rebates: Many energy utilities offer rebates for buying green. In the United States, check at

Visit for more information on green power and energy efficiency.


Paul W. McRandle is senior research editor of The Green Guide, published by The Green Guide Institute, which provides the research for this department.