Drive Responsibly - Cut Back CO2 Emissions It is just our second week in The Goodness Challenge.  We thought we had a pretty good plan in terms of what to tackle when, but, as usual, plans are no more than a loose suggestion in the Gosselin household.  The truth is: your feedback has changed everything.

Last week we tried to make a difference by starting to really understand what we were purchasing.  (The full post is here: Spend Responsibly: GoodGuide Your Groceries.)  We used GoodGuide to research good alternatives to our grocery brands and then we went out and purchased them – at 4 different grocery stores.  At the end of the week, we posted the results of our little experiment and then braced ourselves for your feedback.  We received lots of encouragement and thanks for our efforts; however, we were asked by more than one person if we had driven to the grocery store all those times.  And, if we had, had that offset all of the “goodness” we were trying to do by purchasing responsibly?  A good question.  We had no answer.

Over the weekend, we gave this question some thought.  We did a quick Google search on “climate change” and learned that vehicles account for 51% of a typical household’s CO2 emissions (as per the US Department of Energy’s Fuel Economy site).  That certainly bumped driving responsibly up our “goodness” priority list.

Our Challenge

Do we really understand what our driving habits cost the world?  Is it more than we’re entitled?  What are our options?  How can we do better?  Because we honestly can’t answer these questions, we’ve decided to change this week’s topic.  Let’s get to the bottom of this.

I am not proud to admit that we are the owners of 2 Sport Utility Vehicles.  (Well, now I’m not proud.  Previously, I was more concerned with cargo room for the dog and car seats.)  A 2002 Nissan Pathfinder, which I’m thinking is likely bad with a capital “B”.  And a 2010 Subaru Forrester, which is likely a little better, but not optimal as it is All Wheel Drive.  We’ll spend the week figuring out just exactly how much emissions these 2 cars are making, what we can do to reduce them and, most interestingly, if we can live with that.

Stay tuned as we try to go all week only driving when absolutely necessary so that we can find our driving balance.  I hope the weather holds.

Updated June 10, 2011 by Andrea

Our Tale

If math isn’t your thing and you just want to know what we decided, by all means skip to Our Findings now.  For the rest of you, here’s how it went down.

The Baseline

In order to figure out how to improve, we first had to figure out how bad we are at present.  Luckily, we found LOTS of tools online to help us do this.

To start, we made a list of our typical travel patterns in a given week – on average.  In order to be fair, we looked at 2 different scenarios.  The first is the utopia in which we currently live – at home for the summer working on this blog and not commuting daily.  I’ll henceforth call this our “summer bliss” scenario.  The second is what I’ll describe as “back to reality” – commuting to work and school/ daycare each day.

We live in New Brunswick (that’s in Canada, eh?) and we actually found a tool that calculates the cost, amount of gas used and carbon emissions released to get from one address to another based on the current gas price.  (You can check it out here: New Brunswick Gas Prices.  Note: If you live elsewhere, you can still use it, but the gas prices will be off.)  Pretty cool.  Using this tool, we calculated the carbon emissions for each trip.  Our total carbon emissions each year based on our “summer bliss” scenario: 5,844 lbs.  Based on our “back to reality” scenario: 10,262 lbs.

Alright.  Good baseline.  Now, what the heck does this mean?  Luckily, we found another site ( that calculates the number of trees you need to plant in order to offset your carbon emissions.  We borrowed the math from this site in order to calculate how many trees we would need to plant (per year) in order to neutralize our emissions.  “Summer bliss” scenario: 56 trees.  “Back to reality” scenario: 99 trees.

Summer Bliss” Baseline – Annual

Fuel (l) Cost Emissions (lbs) # Trees to Offset Carbon Offset Cost
903.5 $1,159.60 5,844.2 56.4 $53.02

Back to Reality” Baseline – Annual

Fuel (l) Cost Emissions (lbs) # Trees to Offset Carbon Offset Cost
1583.4 $2,035.80 10,261.9 99.1 $93.09

Yikes, it’s worse than we thought!  So now what?

The Plan

Honestly, it’s so easy to just live in denial.  If it weren’t for that nagging feeling that the planet is dying and that our children might not get to experience all that we have, we (I’m talking about Carl and I – I’m not projecting here) could happily just carry on in ignorant bliss forever.  It’s hard to face the facts.  But we took on this challenge and the facts are pretty bad in my opinion.  I mean, we aren’t even heavy commuters, but 99 trees a year or continued global warming?  Obviously, we can’t carry on like this – even another day.

So, what are our other options?

Walk or bike. This is actually a good option for us.  We both like to stay in shape and we live not too far from most places we go (our kids’ school/ daycare, work, the grocery stores).  If it weren’t for those darn Canadian winters!

Take public transportation. We live inside the city of Saint John.  There is public transportation here in the form of buses, but it’s not perhaps what some of you big city dwellers might be used to.  Unless buses are constantly full, they aren’t necessarily much greener than cars; however, they are running anyway, so you’re riding them is not going to make additional carbon emissions.  (BBC’s Ethical Man blogs about this – quite humorous.)

Drive less. We came up with a few ways to simply drive less.  First, we can use the afore-mentioned modes of transportation.

Second, we can group our excursions together, thereby making fewer trips.  For example, we can take our recycling back, go to the grocery store, fill up on gas and propane for the BBQ and hit the ice cream parlor on the way home – all at the same time.  This way the kids are happy and we only made one trip.

Finally, we can simply not go out.  Do the kids really need to go to the playground across town?  (Why not play on the play yard in the back yard instead?)  Do we really need that trip to the mall just to walk around?  Probably not.  Similarly, we could telecommute a day or two a week (if we had jobs – of course).

Drive more efficiently. For us, this has a lot to do with the types of cars we drive.  We were astonished to see that our Forrester is twice as efficient as our Pathfinder.  And that a Prius would actually be nearly three times as efficient as our Forrester – so – nearly five times as efficient as our Pathfinder.  One clear option for us is to change cars.

Beyond that, there are loads of resources out there on how to drive more efficiently.  It’s made easy almost to the point that I’m embarrassed we didn’t do some of this stuff until now.  I’ll just list out a “quick hits” here.  Turn AC off when it’s not needed.  Properly inflate tires.  Take out spare tires and other extra weight.  Slow down.  And the list goes on and on and on.  The best thing to do really is read them directly from the sources.  Here’s a list of articles to get you started.
Planet Green
US Environmental Protection Agency
Infinite Ideas

Carbon Offsetting. This is an interesting one.  I never really understood this prior to this week.  Basically, we can donate money to a third party to do something green that would in theory offset the carbon we use.  The most popular options we found are (1) investing in renewable energy like solar and wind or (2) planting trees in a foreign country.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it is good to donate to such projects; however, I’m not sure that I believe it really offsets the harm we’ve done.  I guess I personally wouldn’t be comfortable needlessly owning – say – a hummer – and then purchasing an offset to “neutralize” my emissions – and my conscience.  (When I think of this, I have this mental image of the medieval church selling absolutions for sins in exchange for cash.  Maybe it’s just me?)
But it’s certainly better than doing nothing.  We found that the cost of a carbon offset is typically in the ballpark of $20 per tonne of CO2.

Our Findings

So, what did we end up deciding?  By using a combination of techniques, we can reduce our yearly carbon emissions from driving by somewhere between 71% and 86% (depending on the scenario) without  altering our standard of living.  For our “summer bliss” scenario, that’s a reduction from 5,844 lbs to 836 lbs – only 8 trees per year.  Based on our “back to reality” scenario: that’s a reduction from 10,262 lbs to 2,940 lbs – 28 trees per year.

Summer Bliss” Target – Annual

Fuel (l) Cost Emissions (lbs) # Trees to Offset Carbon Offset Cost
124.8 $165.36 836.2 8.1 $7.59


Back to Reality” Target – Annual

Fuel (l) Cost Emissions (lbs) # Trees to Offset Carbon Offset Cost
434.2 $582.92 2939.6 28.4 $26.67


Sayonara SUV

Off the top, we are selling our Nissan Pathfinder.  Since we only rarely make use of the car’s size and power, we feel it’s irresponsible for us to drive it now that we know it’s impact on the world.  It is currently listed on Kijiji – fingers crossed.  Carl is especially pleased that in addition to saving the world, we’ll also be saving roughly between $1000 and $1500 each year in gas.

We are going to keep our Subaru Forrester for now since we aren’t commuting this summer; however, our next car purchase will likely be a Toyota Prius.

Grocery Shopping On Bike

We started walking our daughter to pre-school this week rather than driving.  And we started biking our kids to the playground.  Carl also biked to the grocery store this week and found it a nice escape.  (That’s him on the left – groceries in tow.)


This Week’s Driving

We took our car to the mall on Wednesday.  We spent several hours there doing all of our errands at once.  It is our daughter’s birthday this weekend and there were party preparations that had to be done.  We thought about taking the bus, but we got her an enormous wagon for her birthday and it just wasn’t worth the 1 km walk from the bus carrying the enormous wagon (at least in our eyes).  We had to get a babysitter in order to stay out so long (thanks Mom), but it was worth it.

We only made this 1 trip in the car (25km and 27.7 lbs of carbon dioxide emitted).  Other than that, we haven’t driven at all – and it hasn’t been hard.  We’ve walked and biked a lot.  (Ladies, I lost 2 lbs this week!)  Of course, as mentioned, we are living in our “summer bliss” scenario now, so some adjustments will need to be made come fall.  Still, we think we’ve planned realistically.

The Goodness

This is a tough one.  It’s true that residential carbon emissions account for only a small portion of overall carbon emissions – about 11% according to Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  But even small changes can make a big difference.  In our capitalist society, individuals ultimately control all sectors – even the carbon “heavy hitters” like transportation and industry.  (After all, those guys are making stuff for us and shipping stuff for us.)  Making small changes like driving less – coupled with responsible spending and buying local – attack our climate problem from all angles.  Besides, if we all make these changes, the big guys will get the picture.  (Prius, here we come!)  Otherwise, let’s get planting.

I like to picture the moment when we beat climate change.  In my mind, there’s a parade down Yonge St – just like the Leafs FINALLY won the Stanley Cup – only this is really so much bigger.  In this scenario, there’s a parade in every city in every town everywhere.  Now that will be a good party!

If you’re looking for a way to sanction corporations to follow your lead, start using your consumer power to tell companies that you only want products produced and shipped responsibly.  (You can check out last week’s post here: Spend Responsibly: GoodGuide Your Groceries.)

If you’d like to understand the impact of carbon emissions on climate change more clearly, here are some great sites we found.
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center
Met Office Climate Change



Interested in our other challenges?  Check out The Goodness Challenge.

Image: Paul /

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About the Author

Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

2 Responses to Drive Responsibly: Reduce Your Carbon Emissions

  1. Andrea says:

    Carl baselined our current driving practices today. It seems that in order to offset our carbon emissions, we need to either (1) plant a forest (56 trees to be exact – and that’s just without jobs) or (2) change our life. Since we have only 1/2 acre on which to plant them, I’m thinking we’ll go with option (2). Thoughts?

  2. Carl Carl says:

    Just a quick update… we’re still on target with our carbon emission reduction plan. Other than one big trip to the building supply store for a renovation project, we’ve remained a one-car family. Our second car, the Nissan Pathfinder, is still for sale and is impatiently awaiting its next owner.

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