Counting Carbs

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article by Jeffrey Ball about carbon footprinting … an increasingly popular topic in the Earthkeeping space.  The logic is simple enough – if you can calculate the amount of carbon emissions it takes to produce and / or use something – be it a pair of shoes, a new car or a carton of milk – you then have a means of assessing its environmental impact, which can help you decide how badly you want it and whether there’s a less impactful alternative.

Pretty useful information, in some cases.  When you consider that 86% of the carbon emissions from the average car over its lifetime comes from the car’s fuel use, then fuel efficiency is worth examining closely when you buy your next vehicle.  And when you know that the per-family carbon footprint from doing laundry is 10 pounds per week — and that line drying instead of using your clothes dryer can cut that footprint almost in half —  you might just go string up a clothesline.

Where carbon footprinting falls short in today’s marketplace is in providing a meaningful comparison between similar products – because there’s currently no standard for calculating the data (preventing an easy apples-to-apples comparison) and although the market is growing, there are still relatively few products bearing carbon data (tough to compare two products if one has a carbon “score” and the other does not). 

Like so many issues related to climate change and environmental impact, the good news here is that the conversation is starting and interest is building.  And, there are cross-brand initiatives underway to develop standard means of assessing environmental impact – so that one day, the carbon footprint data you find in stores and on shelves will be as universal and comparable as the nutrition labels you see on your groceries.

What if cutting carbon became as popular as cutting carbohydrates has been in recent years?  That’s one diet trend we’d like to see.

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