July's Low Impact Month is officially in the books and our bills have come in, which means it's time to tally the results and crunch some data. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a data guy, so I was excited to see how our efforts to reduce our impact paid off. But then, I started to look at the numbers...
Car Travel - WIN!
There are two ways we can look at our reduction in car travel: (1) reduced mileage on the cars, or, (2) replaced mileage with alternate modes of transportation.
1) Reduced mileage on cars. These comparisons aren't quite fair as our driving habits aren't very routine. Those averages factor in years of commuting 40 miles a day (which we no longer do) and lots of really long road trips where we put 3000 miles on the car in a matter of a week or so - so the averages are likely higher than we normally drive in a month now. Still, combined we only put 375.6 miles total on both of our cars. That's actually pretty good for living in a suburb and not having anything within walking distance. Driving fuel efficient cars helps reduce the impact of those miles, too. So, WIN!
2) Replaced mileage with alternate modes of transportation. This one was easier to measure. By commuting to work on my bike, I rode almost enough miles to cross Colorado — it's 280 miles north-to-south. My 222.6 could just about get me from my home to Trinidad CO, the last town before reaching New Mexico. Miranda's exactly 0.0 miles on her bike wouldn't even be enough to make it out of the driveway. But, she did still do her job by carpooling to the grocery store and on other errands with our friend a few times. Though we didn't measure, she probably saved around 100 miles this way. We also drove to the downtown bus depot and then took a bus the rest of the way to the airport for her birthday trip. That was an additional 70 miles on public transportation.
So combined, I'm going to call our efforts to reduce car travel a WIN! Sure, we could have done better. But reducing our car travel to only 375.6 miles in an area with very little public transportation is probably about as good as we can get. Plus, I got a lot of exercise and burned almost 10,000 extra calories biking to work. Benefits to the environment and to me.
Home Gas Usage - Fail
Our gas bill came for the month of July. The only gas we use in our house right now is for the hot water heater. So taking shorter showers should have made a difference, right?
NOPE! Gas use was almost exactly the same. We've always kept the temperature on the water heater set low, but it still uses gas just to keep hot water at even a lower temperature. We'll likely see a big difference in gas use by keeping our thermostat lower in the winter, but it doesn't look like there is much we can do to reduce gas use in the summer time.
Water Usage - Fail.
Water is a precious resource, especially in a dry place like Colorado. We tried to reduce our water usage by taking short showers and reducing the amount we watered the lawn. Most of the lawn died as a result. So how'd we do?
NOT SO GREAT. Our water usage was still high this month. There's no way to spin that. The amount of water we use in the summertime seems to really be tied to the temperature. It just takes more to keep our lawn, trees, and other plants alive. In the summer, we use about 30,000 gallons a month but in the winter, we use only 1/10 of that - 3,000 gallons per month. There have already been calls to get rid of lawns since all they do is waste water and fuel through mowing. Seeing our data, I think I agree. In fact, after seeing this, we've completely stopped watering half of our lawn. We're only continuing to water the parts where the trees are so that those don't die. Not watering means less mowing too, which will further reduce our environmental impact.
Electricity Usage - Win (ish).
We thought we'd made a big difference in our electricity usage. We kept our lights off all month as much as possible and used just a small solar lantern most evenings. We didn't use the A/C except if the house got unbearably hot - above 85º inside. So did our electricity bills reflect our efforts?
SORT OF. Our electricity usage did go down, but not as drastically as we thought it would. Appliances like our stove and refrigerator probably used about the same amount of energy that they always do and are likely a big portion of our monthly usage. But, our efforts to reduce lighting and cooling did pay off somewhat, as we had the lowest usage per day that we've ever had.
While these don't seem like big differences, imagine what an impact we would make if everybody made these small changes. Let's look at just electricity: A reduction of 0.9 kWh per day, which is only about 5% for us, means that we save just over 1 lb of carbon emissions per day if our electricity comes from natural gas. With coal power, it would be about 1.9 lbs per day - and much of america is still on coal power. Carbon emissions are the biggest driver of climate change. (By the way, if you don't believe in climate change, just look at the trends in our average temperatures around here. It's just a small snapshot, but the data shows an upward trend pretty much everywhere.) So, with our slight savings rate, we could save 397 lbs of carbon emissions per year. If every household in America made even the small savings we did this month, collectively we could save up to 836 BILLION lbs of carbon emissions per year just by reducing our electricity usage this small amount. If you add to that reductions in car travel and water usage, our environmental impacts could really start to add up. Overall, our changes this month weren't drastic, but collectively, they could really make a difference.