One small step for Girton

As part of the Christmas Tree shredding event at the Glebe school in January, we offered to calculate the Carbon Footprint of any of the visitors who had a few minutes to complete a simple questionnaire. We had also circulated questionnaires to the families of Glebe pupils. We were very fortunate to have the help and experience of the Cambridge Carbon Footprint Group to assist us on the day.

Your Carbon Footprint is a measure of how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is generated to supply all your energy needs each year, like heating your home, fuelling your car, or manufacturing the goods you buy. The increasing CO2 level is one of causes of global warming, and western societies are currently producing far more of it per person than our planet can deal with. By calculating people’s “footprint” we aim to give them some illustration of what they are responsible for and which bits of their lifestyle produce the most pollution.

More than thirty Girton residents completed the questionnaire, and while far from a representative sample of the village, we had quite a range of results. They went from a footprint of nearly 24 tonnes per year to the lowest at 2.4 tonnes per year, with a wide range of values in between. The average from our respondents was 7.2, and while this compares favourably to the current UK average of 10, it is some way above the 2025 national target of 4 tonnes per person per year.

You can see how the average for the Girton residents compares to the UK average in this graph:

Analysing the results quickly made it clear that those with large footprints all had something in common: air travel. A couple of flights to America or to India would add 8 tonnes to their score, in some cases taking what would otherwise be an excellent and sustainable result to one that was way above average. As flying becomes more popular, it seems likely that this portion will continue to grow, but it is one area where large savings can be made. Simply cutting out one flight per year would make a huge difference.

If flying was removed from the equation, the energy used to produce and transport our food was the next largest portion, but again there was quite a range with the lowest being those who bought (or grew!) fresh food locally and in season. Meat and dairy products require a lot of energy to produce compared to other foods, as does processed food.

Other big areas of consumption were heating our houses, shopping, and transport. Energy-saving measures like insulation and efficient appliances can help in the house, and every one knows that it’s better to walk, cycle, or use public transport rather than drive. Shopping uses energy not just because we work up a sweat carrying it all home, but because of the energy used to manufacture the goods we buy. You therefore use less energy in the long run if you can buy things that last; repair rather than replace; and buy second hand.

While it may seem like there is a lot to do, we need only reduce our energy consumption by a few percent each year for it to result in the savings necessary to reach a level of 4 tonnes per person by 2025. By taking small steps, we can all reduce our footprint!