The Nuances of Our Carbon Footprint by Cathy Sandeen

At first glance, the term carbon footprint is a simple and consistent way for us to conceptualize our personal impact on the environment.

carbon footprint

Like most of you, I have been trying to educate myself and reduce my own impact. I like to think I am making progress. Small things matter. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2009 was to reduce my purchase of water in plastic bottles. I’m happy to say, I probably cut back by 95%, shifting to reusable stainless bottles instead. (This year I’m hoping I will find a way to remember to bring my reusable shopping bags into the store with me more often!)

I recently published an article in the Continuing Higher Education Review on green marketing and environmental consumerism.

Positive trends.  I was very impressed by a Washington Post—ABC News poll I cited in my article that found 94 percent of respondents were very willing or somewhat willing to change some of the things they do to help improve the environment.

I’m gratified that UCLA has been recognized for its ongoing efforts to reduce its impact to the environment, making it onto the list Top 20 Green Campuses according to The Sierra Club.

Sierra Club

Uncovering the nuances. Even with all these positive trends, I can’t help but think there is much more to the carbon footprint story. In my article, I also quoted Daniel Yankelovich (Going Green 2 Perspective) who is known for his ability to delve beneath the surface of public opinion to uncover deeper meanings and attitudes. According to Yankelovich:

“The vast majority of people don’t have very well-artic­ulated views of the environment. They can answer an overnight public opinion poll. But that’s not an answer they can necessarily talk about in-depth or understand the costs and consequences about those things. Even something like global warming, where there’s been a lot of talk, the distribution of opinion is not very firm.”

One of my colleagues recently challenged a statement I made that online courses were naturally “greener” than classroom-based courses. Not so fast. He pointed out that a single simple search via a search engine generates significant carbon emissions. Harvard professor, Alex Wissner-Gross, studied this specific impact. As he explains in the Times of London:

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Continue learning. Learning about carbon impacts—and reducing them—is an ongoing process, one I hope remains on the forefront for many years to come. The bottom line is we all need to continue to challenge our thinking, to delve beneath the surface, to try to understand as many nuances as we can in order to make a lasting difference.

UCLA Extension Certificate in Global Sustainability

UCLA Certificate in Design Communication Arts



One response to “The Nuances of Our Carbon Footprint by Cathy Sandeen

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article. I have learned a great deal. Please keep up the good work!

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