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Shades of Green: measuring your carbon footprint

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“Shades of Green,” a new column on environmental issues related to the UIC campus and community, will appear monthly in UIC News beginning today.

Sustainability is today’s buzz word … so are phrases like energy efficiency, going green, organic, eco-friendly and carbon footprint.

Corporations, universities, even political campaigns are jumping on the environmental bandwagon — but what does sustainability mean for me?

I bought the reusable green shopping bags at Jewel. I have a hybrid car (although I think it’s a wash since my husband still has his Jeep). I swapped my household cleaning products for Seventh Generation, Shaklee and Mrs. Meyers labels. I try to buy organic and local foods.

But am I really doing my part?

I decided to measure my carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gases I produce via electricity/transportation in my day-to-day life), using one of the many carbon footprint calculators available on the Web.

One carbon footprint calculator said my footprint is 17.82 tons per year. I was surprised! The good news is that it’s less than the U.S. average of 20.4. The bad news? I’m 13 tons above the world average and 15 tons above the targeted world average amount (2 tons).

My October vacation to Hawaii accounts for 1.5 tons alone! Since I don’t want to cancel my annual girls-only trip, I need to find other ways to reduce my footprint.

Life is all about choices and while buying more “green” products has been an easy step for me, I realize I need to work more on changing other behaviors as well. (One suggestion from the Web site is asking your employer to let you work from home one day a week – let’s see if my boss reads this column and lets me do that!)

The first step is to learn more. That’s why I joined the Chancellor’s Committee on Sustainability and Energy. That’s why I work with Cynthia Klein-Banai, interim associate chancellor in the Office of Sustainability. And that’s why I wanted to write this column. By participating, I hope to increase my awareness of what I can do to reduce my carbon footprint.

And this is a great month to get involved. The Green Screens Film Festival and Sustainable Living Roadshow will be at UIC today through Sunday at Harrison Field, complete with music and entertainment.

During UIC’s first Sustainability Week, next Monday through Friday, we will focus on what we, as a campus, can do to reduce our footprint.

At a recent sustainability committee meeting, we discussed what the sustainability message should be for the campus. One of the committee members, Richard Doherty, summed it up best: conserve first; then consume responsibly.

UIC must demonstrate this for its students, faculty and staff. And I need to get on that bandwagon as well … or more specifically, walk beside that bandwagon, since that would reduce my footprint even more.

Monica Rausa Williams is assistant to the chancellor and a member of the Chancellor’s Committee for Sustainability and Energy. Send comments and suggestions to sustainability@uic.edu

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