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1 Jan 2021 : Something positive from 2020: a reduced carbon footprint #
Back in April last year I reviewed my carbon footprint and found it to be much higher than I'd hoped. Because my wife Joanna works in Cambridge UK, while I work in Tampere Finland, our carbon output caused by flights was off the scale. Along with the fact that we're essentially running two households, our combined CO2 output was 14.47 tonnes in 2019, or about 7.24 tonnes each. Compared to the UK average of 6.5 tonnes, or world average of 5 tonnes, that really doesn't look good. Especially when you think that we were trying our best to keep it low (for example, I don't run a car and subscribe to a fully renewable electricity plan).

We were determined to improve on this in 2020 and gave ourselves some targets to hit. Then of course 2020 turned out to be an atypical year, to put it mildly. We both spent the majority of the year working from home. For six months we were in separate countries unable to travel to see each other. And while this was bad in many ways, it did at least have an impressive effect on our carbon footprint.

With our ability to travel seriously curtailed, the numbers look very different for 2020. Here's the complete breakdown, including the respective values for 2019 and the goals that we set ourselves back in April.

Source Details for 2020 CO2 output 2019 (t) Goal for 2020 (t) CO2 output 2020 (t)
Electricity 1 427 kWh 0.50 0.25 0.40
Natural gas 6 869 kWh 1.18 1.18 1.26
Flights 4 return HEL-LON 5.76 3.46 2.26
Car 2 000 km 1.45 0.97 0.39
Bus 40 km 0.00 0.00 0.01
National rail 400 km 0.08 0.16 0.01
International rail 1 368 km 0.02 0.04 0.01
Taxi 37 km 0.01 0.02 0.01
Food and drink   1.69 1.69 1.11
Pharmaceuticals   0.26 0.26 0.32
Clothing   0.03 0.03 0.06
Paper-based products   0.34 0.34 0.15
Computer usage   1.30 1.30 1.48
Electrical   0.12 0.12 0.29
Non-fuel car   0.00 0.00 0.10
Manufactured goods   0.50 0.10 0.03
Hotels, restaurants   0.51 0.51 0.16
Telecoms   0.15 0.15 0.05
Finance   0.24 0.24 0.24
Insurance   0.19 0.19 0.11
Education   0.05 0.05 0.00
Recreation   0.09 0.09 0.06
Total   14.47 11.14 8.50

In some areas we didn't hit our targets, but when it comes to travel we obliterated them. The final result is a combined carbon footprint of 8.5 tonnes of CO2, or 4.25 tonnes each. That's really quite good, taking us well below the UK (6.5 tonnes) and EU (6.4 tonnes) averages, and even taking us below the worldwide average of 5 tonnes.

If 2020 had been a normal year we clearly would have struggled to keep our footprint so low. But it's all the same to the environment and so I'm glad for the improvement.

Turning to the future, the real question will be whether we can sustain this same low level in 2021. Given the uncertainty of what lies ahead and the peculiar circumstances we experienced last year, it doesn't seem sensible to try to set a lower target, but rather to simply aim to match what we did in 2020 and see how we get on with that.

If you're interested to calculate your own carbon footprint, I can recommend the Carbon Footprint Calculator I used to compile the values here. It really made the process surprisingly painless.


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