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Bill and Mary Carbon Footprint Story

Bill and Mary's Carbon Footprint Story

My name is Bill. My wife Mary Sue and I have five kids ages 13 through 19. I started a career in engineering in 1979 when I was attending the Penn State University. I worked at a small firm where I was involved in studying improvements to existing buildings to lower their energy bills (i.e., we called them Energy Conservation Measures The Weinaug Familyor ECMs). This was part of a federal grants program that was developed after the 1973 energy crisis: The National Energy Conservation Policy Act.

Upon graduating from Penn State I got involved in a couple of fairly cool projects, I like to refer to them as "sustainable projects before their time." This list includes projects like:


Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut – I engineered the addition of a 400 ton air conditioning system that operated off of the waste steam from a turbine driven chiller. The steam was created from the methane gas collected from a nearby landfill (i.e., free energy). Obviously, I thought that was pretty cool.

A Digester Gas Facility in Gainesville Florida – Shortly after the Sikorsky project I helped Environmental Science Engineering Inc. engineer a pilot / test facility that burned methane gas created from decaying water hyacinths. The gas was burned in an engine that drove a power generator.

My introduction into the world of engineering was colored in green from the get-go. Since then I have spent most of my time trying to convince property developers to minimize their buildings' impact on this planet. I intimately understand the buildings I help design account for:

  • 65.2% of total U.S. electricity consumption
  • More than 36% of total U.S. primary energy use
  • 12% of potable water use in the U.S.
  • 30% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
  • 136 million tons of construction & demolition waste in the U.S.
  • 40% (billion tons annually) of raw materials use globally

But even knowing all this, I was doing little about it in my own life. About a year ago, I jumped on the Internet and tried to calculate my carbon footprint. Once I figured it out, I was appalled. I was dumping about 280 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. Compared to 60 tons for an average American household, I was felling pretty bad. I shared this carbon story and my global warming concern with my sweet wife. This is where it all began for us. We knew we had to do something about it. We joined and were committed to change.

The first commitments we made were small and easy to do. These included a few energy saving & earth friendly ideas:
  • Replacing all of the light bulbs in the house with 18 watt compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL)
  • Purchasing a new Energy Star refrigerator
  • Water saving dishwasher
  • Purchasing a front-loading washer and dryer and
  • Washing our clothes in cold water rather than hot water
  • Shopping with reusable grocery bags (Mary got them from Oprah)

On top of all this, Mary started to purchase Shaklee products (i.e., Earth friendly soaps), and we are now purchasing EcoSoft earth friendly paper towels, toilet paper and biodegradable trash bags (all made from corn products)

Hybrid Automobile - Last year X-nth, the company I work for, approved a program that gives employees a $1,000 rebate for purchasing a Hybrid Car; desirable for its smaller carbon footprintqualified hybrid automobile. About this time, while on a business trip,
one of my good friends from
Los Angeles
let me drive
his Toyota
Prius. I fell
in love with
the car.
driving is one
of the bigger direct carbon producers in my life. Because of this, I decided to purchase a hybrid. What a great move in the right direction this was. The first cost was slightly offset by X-nth's contribution and by a Federal government tax rebate program ($2,000).

Solar Water Heater

We installed a solar hot water system on the house. I will be taking advantage of the $500 Florida State rebate, the $450 Progress Energy rebate, and the 30% Federal income tax credit. Of course, this financial assistance made it a little easier to do. I'm also working with my company to help develop a new program to make this even easier for other X-nth employees. We're now planning on creating a company rebate program that matches the State's. This will give all X-nth employees great financial returns when they decide to invest in a solar water heating system.

Solar Water Heater

Recycling - About this time, we started to talk about the waste we send to the landfill every week. We've been recycling for years as part of a community program, but with five kids that's hit or miss. We started to become more serious about our recycling efforts.

Garden - Mary reminded me she always wanted a garden and we recalled how our grandparents grew much of their food. We questioned why we couldn't do that. So we did. We are now growing Rain Water Cisternall of our own vegetables and will soon be planting our first lettuce crop.

Composter - We purchased a 100 gallon rotary drum composter and started composting all of our kitchen and yard waste so we would have our own home-grown fertilizer for the garden.

Rain Water Cisterns - We installed rain water cisterns (about 5,000 gallons worth), so now all of our yard irrigation and garden watering is done with collected rain water.

Low Flow Shower Heads - We've changed out all of our shower heads to low flow heads (some as low as one gallon per minute).

Dual Flush Water Closet - We are installing a dual flush water closet in the main bathroom of the house (the one all the kids use).

Green Tags - About this time, X-nth started to purchase green tags for all the power we consume at each of our nine offices around the country. Every KWh we use at work comes from either wind or bio-gas. In addition, our San Diego office has a 40 KW PV array to help minimize our companies footprint here on this planet. This started to make me feel good about what impact my vocation has on this planet. In any event, it is another indirect carbon impact in my life eliminated.

Green Parties - On Live Earth 2007, X-nth had a party to celebrate our planet. Everybody brought something to share. I parked the Prius out front of my partner's house with the front hood and back hatch up, inviting everybody to take a peak inside. In the back, we had several cases of CFL's with a sign explaining a little about the easy things we can do to help. I gave everybody who came to the party a package for them to try. I pointed out they'll save 4 cents an hour, or about $88 a year if the bulb is lit for six hours a day. Obviously, in the back of my mind, I knew more important than the dollar savings this would reduced carbon emissions from the coal burning plants that supply us power.

Air Travel - The biggest change in my carbon footprint has been with my Air travel. Being an engineer with a large international engineering firm, it's fairly tough to control. Video conferencing is the norm at our office, but often we need to have face-to-face meetings and/or visit the construction sites we are developing. When X-nth started to buy carbon offsets for every plane ticket I purchased, my carbon footprint drastically dropped. I realize this is not a perfect solution but I truly believe buying offsets is a move in the right direction when there is little else you can do.

My Latest Move: KW PV System - The guys (Solar Direct) who installed the new solar thermal system on our house also did a pre-install inspection for a new 5 KW PV system. I have engaged the same firm to start engineering. This will soon be installed. Hopefully in time to take advantage of the State's $20,000 rebate program. (This story was written before the PV System was installed. View the installation photos below)

PV System

PV System

My Next Move... My wife drives a F350 diesel, sTruck Scheduled for Bio-Deisel Conversionomething I get a lot of grief for when I start telling my friends this story. However, this is something we soon will have an answer for. We are now trying to figure out how we can start feeding it bio-diesel to become carbon neutral there too! Soon to come... soon to come.

So, where are we now?
It depends on the carbon calculator you use but I'm guessing my carbon foot print will soon be less than 25 metric tons per year, below half of an average American family's emissions. Yes … that's less than 10% of where we started about a year ago. I'm starting to feel good about my life now.

What will the short term future bring? We're determined to continue getting better and better at this so we will continue to make changes. We realize what we've done is just a start. We want to lead by example and to get the word out about how easy all this really is. To this end, we're planning a big GREEN party to introduce the steps we're taking to our friends, so they too can start with the little things, as we did.

With efforts by folks like Mary and I, we hope someday we'll all be doing something little. And we're confident that all those "something littles" will all add up to keep the planet as it "was" for our grand children's children's grand children.

God Bless them and our PLANET !!!

As part of The Early Show's Clean & Green special segment on CBS-TV, Bill and his family were highlighted for their efforts to reduce their family's carbon footprint.

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