Sustainable Actions Calculator

Use the calculator below to see how much of an impact you are having (or can have) with your positive actions. Then add actions you are taking with the "Add to My Impact" button (after calculating) and you will see your impact accumulate over time on your profile!

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Sustainable Action Categories

Conservation and Efficiency

The environmental footprint of eating meat has been studied recently with much more intensity. The general consensus is that meat-intense diets are responsible for more CO2 emissions than plant-based diets, although the exact amounts are still being debated. A recent study from the University of Chicago concluded that 'a person consuming a mixed diet with the mean American caloric content and composition causes the emissions of 1485 kg CO2-equivalent above the emissions associated with consuming the same number of calories, but from plant sources.'

In reality, Westerners, and especially North Americans, consume at least 10 times the meat per person compared to poor countries. This is not a sustainable level to maintain.

A reduction in meat consumption by 50% would have the effect of reducing almost 750kg of CO2 per year. This would be more than an equivalent reduction than walking to work instead of driving, for the average person.

The most difficult part, for most Westerners, is breaking the habit of defaulting to meat. As a first step, why not try reducing just for a week?

The cash savings are listed as zero because it would entirely depend on a persons own eating habits.

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Clothes dryers use a tremendous amount of electricity, even newer high-efficiency models. Hang-drying is easier on your clothes and the environment.

The costs of this assume the need to purchase some form of clothes drying line.

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In the average home, the hot water heater is set much higher than is necessary or desired. Many homes have it set well over 55C or 140F but water this temperature is never actually used. In the shower or sink it's normally mixed with cold water. Most people are happy with water under 45C or 120F, which will save a good amount of CO2 emissions and money.

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Programmable thermostats can significantly reduce energy consumption by adjusting temperatures according to your schedule. Set the temperature higher in the summer, and lower in the winter, when nobody will be at home. Adjust the temperature during sleeping vs. waking hours.

The costs of this solution are simply the price range of the thermostat. The benefits are harder to calculate since it depends how the unit is used, giving the large range.

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CF light bulbs provide a tremendous energy and emissions savings. They are slightly more expensive up-front but last many times longer and typically pay themselves off within several months, leading to large savings over several years.

The costs and benefits here are a range around the assumed household averages of at least 23 light sockets. A range of 2-6 hours of use each per day is assumed.

The only potential drawback of CF bulbs is the presence of a small amount of mercury, which means they should be disposed of properly. New CF bulbs are coming available that contain less than half the mercury of current models. This concern needs to also be balanced with the reduction in all forms of polution from carbon-based electricity generation with the lower energy requirements.

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Plastic and paper bags have recently gotten a lot of attention, and it is well deserved. Disposable bags are a recent invention and are a prime example of our wastefull culture.

Plastic bags do not biodegrade, produce a huge mess in our cities and surrounding areas, and consume a large amount of landfill space. Paper bags are better in some ways and worse in others. The total energy required to produce a paper bag is more than plastic. If properly recycled there is a chance it will be a similar footprint to a plastic bag, although most paper bags are not recycled.

In either case paper and plastic are not good. Fortunately we have a solution that satisfied people for thousands of years, until recently: reusable bags. They are cheap, sturdy, and last for years. The hardest part is remembering to bring them to the store! A great tip is to put the bags by the front door after unpacking them inside, so they can be brought out to the vehicle for the next use.

In many locations around the world plastic bags are now taxed, therefore there would be an associated cash savings with this action. The amount paid in the tax varies considerably today, so the savings will be left at zero here.

The CO2 savings per bag is relatively small but adds up quickly per year. Disposable bags have a significant negative impact beyond just CO2 emissions as well.

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Tankless (On-Demand) Water Heaters are much more efficient than tank systems; up to 25% more. They also have a much longer operating life than tank heaters. Most tank heaters last less than 10 years, whereas tankless last up to 20.

The difference in unit lifetime, plus the savings in operating costs, pays back most, if not all, the total up-front investment in the heater.

The large difference in up-front cost is due to the different scenarios of a) purchasing a new tank heater compared to a tankless heater vs. b) replacing a functioning tank system at the higher end.

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In the average home, hot water for showers can account for up to two thirds of all hot water usage. Each showerhead replaced with a low-flow equivalent will therefore have enormous savings. The savings here are due to less energy to heat water and less overall water use.

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Modern clothes washers and detergents often work just as well with cold water as with hot or warm. This can be used to your advantage to save energy. Some brands cold water detergent are slightly more expensive, giving the small cost associated with this.

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Water heater blankets are a cheap and effective way too reduce a significant amount of CO2 emissions and save money. They wrap around the heater to insulate and reduce heat loss, meaning less energy is required to maintain the water temperature. Blankets normally pay for themselves within the first year.

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Biking or walking to work as compared to driving. Both of these offer enormous sustainable benefits and also health benefits such as exercise and a period of time to relax and reduce stress on the way home. This solution assumes ownership of a vehicle and biking or walking when able, or else the 'Exclusive Sustainable Transportation' solution is more appropriate.

The cost for this solution is for a reasonable bike and accessories. Savings assume an average of 100km biked per week rather than driving, which can be customized on the calculator.

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A vehicle that is conventionally powered (gas or diesel) but is purchased with fuel efficiency as a driving factor. This often means purchasing a vehicle that is smaller than a person would have otherwise considered, however that is not always the case. Often another brand may offer a vehicle that is roughly equivalent except has a smaller or more efficient engine.

Over the past several decades, the concepts of what are necessary and luxury have shifted. For example, in the Western world the size of vehicle has become a status symbol. A person who lives by themselves or with a small family and does not often need a large amount of cargo space will purchase an enormous SUV. Contrast this to countries such as India and China where a family of 6 people can travel on a single scooter. This is not to say the latter is safe, but to show the difference of necessity vs. luxury.

Note that this solution may not have any cost associated with it in some cases, and may in fact be a negative cost if moving from a mid or large-sized vehicle to a compact. For the averages we will assume a person is going for a significant increase in fuel efficiency and therefore would have at least some cost associated.

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This solution means to use sustainable transportation as a replacement for non-sustainable forms such as a personal vehicle. Sustainable forms of travel include at least public transportation, biking and walking.

Savings are as compared to owning a car with a moderate monthly payment and and fuel costs. The costs include possibly buying a bicycle, public transit pass, etc.

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Hybrid vehicles are typically much more efficient than their gas-only equivalents. They generate electricity while driving, often during braking. This energy is then used to power the vehicle, typically while stopped and at low speeds.

Most manuafacturers now offer at least one Hybrid model. The best overall fuel economy for 2008 is the Toyota Prius at about 55 mpg but there are many other excellent models from Honda, Ford, Lexus, Mercury and others. Use caution when selecting a vehicle as certain vehicles are still tuned for performance and don't achieve a significant fuel economy improvement.

As an example, consider a large SUV which gets 16 mpg. At average mileage and approximately $3/gallon gas, the total fuel cost over 5 years would be over $11,000. Comparing to a mid-range hybrid at 45 mpg the 5 year fuel cost would be almost $4,000, a savings of $7,000. Your actual savings would depend what vehicle you would have purchased otherwise.

In-depth guide: hybrids

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Composting is the process of storing organic waste and letting it decompose into compost, which can be used as a fertilizer. There are many benefits of composting, including reducing the load on landfills, returning nutrients food chain, and reducing greenhouse has emissions.

The reduction in GHG emissions come from several areas. First, it is believed that organic waste in a landfill is a net emitter of GHG. Compost is considered a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs GHG. Second, by using compost as a fertilizer no energy and emissions are required to manufacture and transport a commercial fertilizr.

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Recycling has proven itself to be a cost-effective method of reducing waste and increasing resource utilization efficiency. Recycling did require significant tax subsidies during the early years, but now most types of material have reached at least cost-neutrality and some are profitable. Further, there is significant full life-cycle CO2 emission reduction with recycled products.

As an example, in the US the national average rate of recycling of all materials is over 30%. This is about 91 million tons of material per year. Reports indicate this reduces enough CO2 to have removed approximately 39 million cars from the road each year, which is about 101 million tons of CO2.

Considering the impact and low effort, it makes sense to recycle all the metals, papers, glass and plastic that we consume.

Recycling Facts

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% energy compared to new aluminum
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours
  • Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 gallons of water
  • Paper made from recycled paper uses 70% less energy
  • The energy saved by recycling just one glass bottle could light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours
  • Recycling plastic uses half the energy required to burn it

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Renewable Energy

Complete conversion of a house to off-grid energy. The costs and benefits of this solution have a very large range because there are many factors involved, such as the size of the house, typical energy usage and geographic location. The costs of this solution include full battery system for off-hour usage.

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Several solar panels installed to augment grid electricity, or feed back into the grid. No, or limited, battery system included. One scenario would be switching specific appliances to use the output of the solar panels, yet the most common would be that the electricity generated is fed back onto the grid. The owner of the panels then gets paid by the utility for how much was generated.

The costs and benefits would depend heavily on how much electricity needs to be generated, plus location. Location affects not only the amount of sunlight available, but also whether there are government incentives or guarentees provided for home owners investing in solar.

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Solar water heaters are units that can supplement or replace an existing gas or electric water heating system. Solar panels will be installed on the exterior of the house to heat the water.

"A typical solar hot water system will reduce annual energy costs by 40 to 50 percent. You can expect that a solar water heater will provide you with 1500 to 3000 kWh of energy per year, depending on your hot water usage and regional climate." - from

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Most areas have at least one clean energy provider. You can sign up with these providers and by paying a small premium for your electricity they generate an equal amount of clean energy. Your home does not get energy directly from the clean provider, rather your payments purchase the clean electricity, which has a slightly higher cost than dirty electricity, and is then fed onto the normal electricity grid.

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Consumer Products

Gas lawn mower engines are not as efficient as vehicle engines, so they produce much more pollution. A gas lawn mower can produce as much pollution within an hour as 40 new cars driven for an hour. Electric mowers produce much less pollution (considering electricity generation) and cost much less to run. Manual (push) mowers emit and cost nothing to run.

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Carbon offsets are becoming increasingly popular in western countries. They provide a no-effort way to neutralize parts of an unsustainable lifestyle that are difficult or impossible to change.

When you purchase offsets the organization who sold them will use that money to fund some activity that will reduce CO2 emissions by the same amount you were quoted. Popular activities are tree planting, investments in renewable energy and conservation, and recently methane capture. Investments in renewable energy would be similar to signing up with a clean energy provider. Your money would subsidize the generation of more expensive renewable energy.

There are various ways you can purchase offsets. A lot of recent marketing has been related to offsetting flights or cars, but you can also calculate what your total footprint is and purchase a bulk amount.

The price of offsets will vary but are normally in the range of $15-$20 per ton.

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Buying bottled water is typically wasteful, at least in developed countries with quality public water systems. Bottled water is regulated less than tap water, and often times what's in the bottle is just tap water.

Further, producing and transporting the bottles are expensive. It's estimated that the total energy required to make and transport a bottle of water would require about a quarter of the bottles worth of oil. Overall, that adds up to as much energy as the yearly consumption by millions of vehicles.

Global consumption of bottled water is estimated at 187 billion liters, and most of the bottles end up in landfills, not recycled.

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Older, inefficient, appliances waste a surprising amount of energy. For example, the average fridge manufactured before 1993 uses 1,000 kWh/year compared to a new model which can use as little as 500 kWh/year.

The table below shows common major household appliances and a comparison of the energy usage between older and newer models. If you want to upgrade some of your appliances consider picking the ones with the most energy savings for a newer model below.

Appliance Energy Comparison

Appliance20+ year-old model
New model
Cash Savings
per year
CO2 Savings
per year
Clothes Washer1,20070035350
Clothes Dryer105090011110
Dish Washer1,00050035350

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A custom entry for any actions that don't fit within the other calculators. A one-time action is typically some larger impact item that is done once (or infrequently) and has an immediate impact, like buying carbon credits or choosing to take a train for vacation rather than fly.

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A custom entry for any actions that don't fit with the other calculators. An ongoing action is one that is part of your life, like walking to work every day.

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