Thinking about making a New Year’s resolution to green your life, but don’t know where to start? The following post is intended to help focus on the biggest impact areas.
(Disclaimer: there's no “silver bullet” solution. Rather, there are many solutions, all with multiple benefits — environmental, social, and economic. Climate change mitigation activities should be at the center of the region’s broader sustainability planning. That said...)
Here are five actions that individuals can take to address climate change.
Heating a home in a cold-weather climate takes a load of energy. The EPA reports that residential and commercial buildings generate 12% of all carbon emissions in the U.S. (80% of those 2,300 metric tons of carbon emissions comes from natural gas burned to warm interior spaces).
#1 If you own or are thinking about buying a home, the process for greening a living space starts behind the walls. In older homes, which is most of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, insulation and air sealing are your best friends. Blow-in insulation and spray foam offer the most favorable return on investment compared to other laudable acts, including window replacements.
Start with a home energy audit — to get your hands on the exact measure of your home’s energy efficiency. (Read this post to understand how homes have the equivalent to a miles per gallon rating). Armed with knowledge about your home’s energy losses will help you make informed decisions if resources are limited.
#2 Keeping the lights on and the appliances of modern life going accounts for half of the region’s carbon footprint. That’s because 70% of the power sourced for Northeast Ohio comes from non-renewable sources. Thanks to LED (light emitting diode) bulbs coming down in price, Americans have installed 450 million LEDs in the last decade — up from half a million in 2009. 85% more energy efficient than an incandescent (“Edison”) bulb, LEDs have saved 50 billion kilowatt-hours from being used to light homes. By comparison, 33.41 kilowatt-hours equals one gallon of gas. Also, purchases of EnergyStar (a government program to promote more energy efficient) appliances, especially refrigerators, contributed to a drop in energy use in U.S. homes for the first time in years.
#3 Green your power. Sourcing renewable energy from a supplier is now more convenient than ever. Personally, I switched our household electric provider in 2017 to one of the handful of companies that buy certified renewable energy credits, or RECs, to offset our use of fossil fuels. For around $9 a month, equal to 100% of our energy use, we pay to support wind farms in the U.S.
#4 Some cities are taking the lead on renewables. South Euclid, the eastern suburb was recognized in Sustainable Cuyahoga for its promotion of energy efficient buildings and homes. "South Euclid utilized the NOPEC Powering Our Communities Grant Program to implement energy efficiency projects across the city.” To follow suit, look at the Sustainable Cleveland document for opportunities in 2018 to ask your elected officials about how your community can incentivize making homes more energy efficient — and cheaper — to live in.
#5 Shifting gears for a minute, this next one deals with location of your home. It turns out, where you live is just as important as the size or age of your home. A little harder to grasp, but there’s evidence of the measurable benefits of location efficiency which measures how many of life’s most basic necessities are convenient and close to the maximum number of people living in a place. WalkScore, an easy to use online calculator, is a good tool for testing the location efficiency of your home. Just type in your address or name of a city and it provides a score for how many stores, schools, work places are within a comfortable walk, bike or transit trip. In this GCBL post, we rank the "Best places in Northeast Ohio for living car lite," based on their location efficiency.