We’ve all heard the term carbon footprint a lot over the past decade and with a renewed interest in greener, more eco-friendly practices everyone is taking more responsibility for their impact on the environment. We can all agree that everyone would like to reduce their energy consumption, but how do you know where to start? And, are little things like recycling or taking public transit really enough to make a difference?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions for some time and decided that the first step to reducing my own carbon footprint was identifying which of my daily activities are helpful or harmful to the environment. To get an idea of where I stood, I began with a simple Google search. I typed the phrase “What’s my carbon footprint?” into the search bar and came up with 1, 910,000 hits, all related to energy consumption and climate change. Surprised by the sheer number of sites and carbon calculators available online, I decided to go with the site at the top the list called, “Carbon Footprint Calculator,” powered by the Nature Conservancy.

Energy use
This particular site calculates your annual carbon footprint by having you complete a series of survey questions, like where you live, how you commute to work, how often you fly and how often you compost. According to the site, my daily activities produce over 12 tons of carbon dioxide per year, a shocking blow to my confidence as a green citizen, and my ranking was well below the national U.S. average of 27 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. After looking at the final calculation, I was shocked by the impact just one person can have on the environment and a bit discouraged that I could produce tons of carbon dioxide, despite making a conscious effort to recycle, walk to work and do my best to reduce my energy consumption. Now I knew my annual impact, but I still wasn't sure how to reduce my footprint, so I went back to Google to find out more.

After doing some digging, I found a handful of sites that offer practical tips for reducing energy consumption, and one of the most user-friendly sites is www.whatsmycarbonfootprint.com, powered by FirmGreen. The site has an in-depth carbon calculator and an entire section dedicated to tips/tricks for reducing your daily energy consumption. Also, all the figures on the site are based on information pulled from recent data collected on several government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Agency (part of the Department of Energy).

 According to the site, 34 percent of household energy use in the U.S. goes toward space heating and another 34 percent is used to power appliances (see chart). To cut down on these two areas the site offers simple tips, like replacing air filters regularly, lowering the thermostat and unplugging appliances when they aren't in use. One tip I found particularly interesting was that cell phone or laptop power cords still use energy even when they’re not powering an appliance, and unplugging these cords can dramatically cut energy consumption and reduce your carbon footprint.

After visiting these sites, it’s clear that determining your carbon footprint doesn’t have to be an arduous task and just understanding your eco-impact is a crucial step toward reducing your footprint.  To learn more about your carbon footprint and recent government energy programs, go to: www.whatsmycarbonfootprint.com, www.nature.com, www.eia.doe.gov, or www.epa.gov.

– Contributed by Gretchen Doores.  Follow her at @canadiangal84