Much like climbing Mt. Everest, the only way to make it where we want to go is one step at a time, and reducing your environmental impact is no exception to the cliché.
At green|spaces, the Sustainability Nonprofit Resource Center serving Chattanooga, Tennessee and the surrounding region, we get asked a lot about what steps people can take to reduce their environmental impact, in particular their carbon footprint. Sustainability is a journey and everyone is somewhere on their journey toward carbon neutrality, and in order to begin, we must first acknowledge where we’re starting.
First things first, how can we begin calculating our impact in order to make the most effective and meaningful changes?
With the help of The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator, we can break each person’s environmental impact down into a few broad categories. Where you live dictates most of the total of your carbon footprint at 55%. What you buy is next at 35%. Those are the goods and services you pay money for and the carbon associated with them. Finally, there is the food and beverages you consume, which makes up 7%.
Let’s drill down into the 55% based on where you live a little bit.
This percentage is made up of two broad categories: transportation and housing. Obviously, if you live in a place where you have to drive a car every day, and that car is being powered by fossil fuels, that’s the single biggest opportunity to improve. You can either move closer to where you work and your basic needs so that you can walk or bike to them, or you can invest in lower carbon (or carbon-free) transportation
Tiny homes, especially ones that are in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods where you can walk or bike to your basic needs, are a great way to reduce this piece of your carbon footprint. If you prefer to live closer to nature, then getting an electric vehicle and charging it with solar panels is a solid plan B. Want both? Consider a tiny home—particularly a tiny home on wheels that gives you the flexibility to move the home you own if your job or interests change to maintain a low carbon footprint.
Greenhouse gasses tied to the house itself can be divided into operating carbon and embodied carbon. Greenhouse gasses due to operating energy are based on the energy you need to run the things in your house and how that energy is produced. Usually the biggest component of operating energy in homes is heating and cooling, then water heating, then lighting, then everything else. So, if you want to reduce the operating energy of a home, the best way is to reduce the amount of volume you have to heat and cool, then make sure you do that heating and cooling as efficiently as possible, with the energy needed having been produced on site as much as possible.
Finally, there’s the embodied carbon. Making all the things that go into a typical home, especially cement and steel, results in a great deal of carbon emitted. In fact, according to Architecture 2030, “It is anticipated that embodied carbon will be responsible for 72% of the carbon emissions associated with global new construction between now and 2030.” So, we need to be careful about which materials we use, and how much of those materials we use. Luckily there are tools like the Carbon Smart Materials Palette and the Athena Impact Estimator that can help with the process.
All that being said, what does this knowledge give us, aside from pangs of guilt about our own lifetime of impact on our ecosystem thus far?
The motivation to change it! To move forward and steward a new way of living!
So if you’re looking to downsize your impact, I mean really downsize, here’s the scoop: living in a low-impact tiny home, especially one that is intentionally located with low or no-carbon transportation, is one of the best things you can do to live eco-positive and reduce your carbon footprint.
Since 2007, through our advocacy and incentive campaigns, education and training classes, design competitions, and other programs, green|spaces has advanced the sustainability of living, working, and building in Chattanooga.
We continue to develop new programming that advances our shared mission of meeting our responsibility to be stewards of the environment and raising the quality of life for residents and visitors.
Learn more at greenspaceschattanooga.org