Earth Hour Tour: Budgeting household emissions

On March 25, 2014 WWF’s David Miller moderated a panel discussion with a variety of experts, hosted by the University of Toronto.  The topic: visions for a future where climate change is no longer a threat.  We know that future is possible, and that the solutions are all around us.  And we want all of Canada to learn from these successes.  We asked panelists answer a critical question: what is the one thing we need to do today to achieve that vision?  Here is one of the answers we received.
Written by Karen Nasmith, Co-founder, Director, Project Neutral
To save money, you start with a household budget. To save greenhouse gas emissions, you start with….a household emissions budget, obviously. And that is the one thing we need today to create a world in which climate change is no longer a threat. But let me take a step….

LED light
Thermographic image of an LED household light bulb, 60 watt equivalent, that uses only 7 watts. © National Geographic Stock /Tyrone Turner / WWF

Project Neutral is about transitioning neighbourhoods to carbon neutral, one household at a time. We got started three years ago in Toronto and we’re poised to expand to a few other cities in southern Ontario in the next year.
Project Neutral is rooted in the belief that the average person cares a great deal about this earth we live on. But climate change is complex and we are quite frankly overwhelmed by messages about how we can live a greener lifestyle. We often don’t know how to begin to respond to the challenge, and we live in busy times; we need to know that our efforts are effective and meaningful.
One of Project Neutral’s goals is to help households benchmark their greenhouse gas emissions. We figure managing household greenhouse gas emissions needs to be treated like managing a household budget. We need to know approximately how much we have to spend each year so that we can choose where to spend it.
If we have access to this information, then each and everyone one of us can take meaningful actions to reduce our footprint, both at home, and then at work, and so on. As our awareness grows, and we realize that we are all working together, a gradual shift will take place. A shared sense of responsibility will subtly guide our choices….and within a few decades we will have so greatly changed the way we power our society that climate change will no longer be a threat.
So we can all use tools (Torontonians can use Project Neutral’s Household Carbon Footprint Survey, which, by the way, will soon be coming to other cities in Southern Ontario, and eventually right across Canada) to establish a baseline. Next we need to set reduction targets, which is a bit of a challenge as this doesn’t really exist at the household level. But not to worry – I have some ideas on this.
The average household footprint in Toronto is 22 tons of CO2 equivalent. The City of Toronto has a goal of reducing 1990 emissions by 30% by 2020.  So, if each household aims to reduce their footprint by about 6 tonnes by 2020, it would be fair to say they’d be doing their part. I’ve oversimplified I know – but it’s a good starting point. And getting started is the most important step – the rest will get easier.
A man measuring the depth of insulation in a house loft or roof space. Insulating your loft can save a significant amount of household heat loss and therefore help save energy and help combat climate change. © Global Warming Images / WWF-Canon

So – what should you do? Benchmark your household emissions set reduction targets and choose actions to reach those goals.
If we all do this, we’ll create an amazing shift in the way we think. Keeping up with the Joneses will take on a whole new meaning: it’ll be less about more, and more about less (emissions).
Celebrate Earth Hour, 8:30-9:30 p.m. on March 29, and let us know what you’ll be thinking about during your #momentofdarkness at