Reducing carbon footprint for energy efficiency

25Jun 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Reducing carbon footprint for energy efficiency

To the most of us when it’s time to leave the planet Earth we would love to leave it knowing it has become a better place. We would like to think that we have contributed to better the life of our children, grandchildren and the future generations.

But it’s very unfortunate that most of us are not familiar with the behaviour that can work against the very future we want to protect. We are not aware that all our actions, as mundane as they may be, are a contributing factor to the wellbeing of the future generation.

To put you to test, let me ask you a few questions. Have you ever heard of carbon footprint? What about carbon offsetting? Are you aware that the way you drive your car has an impact on future generation? Are you sure your eating habits are not a liability to your grandkids? If you are anything like the most of us, you must be having difficulty in answering those questions.

A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization or a product, expressed in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent. Although it is impossible to calculate the total carbon footprint due to its requirement of a huge amount of data and the fact that carbon dioxide can be produced by natural occurrences, it’s possible to estimate the total amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions of a defined population, system or activity by considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system of activity of interest.

Greenhouse gases can be emitted through transportation, production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, buildings, services and other human activities.

Carbon footprint can be produced by direct or indirect sources. The bigger your footprint the worse you are in preparing a good future for the next generation. Let’s take transport, for example; this is typical of an activity that directly produces greenhouse gases.

Studies have shown that up to 30 percent of the difference in kilometres per litre travelled is due to driving habits alone. One could save more than a tonne of CO2 per year, minimizing their carbon footprint, by accelerating slowly and smoothly, driving within the speed limit, maintaining a steady speed and anticipating your starts and stops.

Definitely, car maintenance and services such as replacement of air, oil and fuel filters n par with schedules can go a long way in reducing fuel consumption as well as carbon footprint, regardless of the car brand you drive. Since the amount of fuel consumed per kilometre travelled is shared in car pooling and public transport, they are better options in reducing one’s footprint.

This opportunity to chose the better option in protecting the environment is available in all facets of our daily routine. Take food culture for example.

Processed foods in tin cans have a bigger footprint then unprocessed foods due in part to the energy used in processing the food itself as well as in the production and transportation of the metal used in canning the food. A person with a habit of eating the locally produced foods causes less impact on the environment than a habitual eater of alien stuff.

Although we do eat food and travel to different places and consequently produce greenhouse gases, the biggest culprit in our daily routine is the built environment. An average person spends about 20 hours inside buildings, be it a home, an office, school, hospital, restaurant or other form of the built environment.

At homes, where we spend half the day indoors, some behavioural changes and small investments in energy appliances can reduce our footprints tremendously. A Compact Fluorescent light bulb (CFL) saves more than two thirds of the energy of a regular incandescent bulb and the pay back period is very short as well. Since lights utilize more than 30 percent of an average Tanzanian energy consumption, change in bulbs alone can have a huge impact.

Switching of appliances that are in standby mode is also an easy and quick way to cut on energy consumption. Studies show that in appliance intensive households, standby mode can contribute up to 10 per cent of the total energy bill.

Opening of windows at night and closing them during daytime is one option in reducing energy consumption in countries under tropical climate. A small overhang on windows to reduce direct sunlight can go a long way also in managing consumption related to space cooling.

Behavioural change in office building users can have a significant contribution to the overall energy consumption as well as help in reducing environmental impact.

Switching off appliances when not in use and setting a higher temperature in the cooling systems have been found to be important factors in energy saving that are controlled by building users. Setting the temperature by one degree warmer in cooling season can save you up to 3 percent of your cooling bill.

In office buildings that do not have a central cooling system, especially, users behaviour should be encouraged to support energy savings and consequently lower carbon footprint.

But if all this fails or if you are in a position that is forcing you to have a higher carbon footprint, you can take measures that can offset it.

Carbon offsetting is the counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You can offset your carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees, financing resource conservation projects, which generate reduction in greenhouse gases emissions or by financing renewable energy programmes.

Now whenever you are planting a tree or setting up a solar panel, remember that you are doing it not only for you but for your kid and grandkids as well. Reducing our carbon footprints is a choice, and it is not really a very difficult choice when you are living in any of the East African countries that are blessed with mild temperatures and abundance of fresh food produce.

Once the regional governments invest more on reliable and efficient public transport systems, we will have no excuses to consume excessive amounts of energy.

The technology and the expertise to reduce energy consumption in the built environment are available. What is lacking is the will. The government should set the mechanism to enforce energy efficiency in buildings.

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