When it comes to the town’s carbon footprint, Weston has very big shoes.
That was the conclusion reached by Weston High School senior Jared Kapel, who surveyed residents about their carbon footprints for an independent study project.
A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide and methane — that an individual, household, building, or company generates each year.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American has a carbon footprint of 20 tons per year.
Jared’s study indicates that Westonites generate an average carbon footprint of 48 tons per year, more than twice the national average.
A carbon footprint measures the impact that various day-to-day activities have on the environment, and in particular, climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation — and is measured in units of tons or pounds of carbon dioxide.
The single largest source of emissions for the typical American household comes from driving (gasoline use).
Jared said he was motivated to conduct a study of Weston’s carbon footprint because he has a strong interest in the environment. The first student member of the Weston Sustainability Committee, he plans to further study sustainability and urban planning when he goes to college.
For the study, he gathered information from 93 Weston households, assisted by students, school staff, and supportive parents. His faculty adviser for the study was John Kingston.
Participants were asked to fill out a carbon footprint survey online at the EPA’s website — epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/ind-calculator.
The first part of the survey asked questions about primary heating sources, the number of vehicles in each household, weekly/annual gas mileage, electricity usage, fuel oil and propane usage, waste emissions, and recycling.
From the information provided, Jared concluded that the average individual Weston carbon footprint was 48,698 pounds (of CO2 per year). Individual carbon footprints ranged from 6,744 pounds to 261,422 pounds of CO2.
The second part of the survey asked Weston residents to address if and how they would take specific actions to reduce their carbon footprints.
Some households were committed to taking specific actions that would result in a potential 30% decrease in their emissions, and a 17.4% average decrease in their carbon footprints. These actions would save Westonites an average of $2,293 per year in energy bills.
Jared said he was not surprised that Weston’s average carbon footprint was significantly higher than the American average.
“There are a lot of SUVs in Weston and many households have a large number of vehicles, so that really adds up,” he said.
He also noted that there isn’t a lot of local produce in town so Westonites do a lot of shopping out of town, requiring more gasoline usage.
During the summer months, he said, a large number of Weston households rely on air conditioning, which also ups their carbon footprint.
Some participants in Jared’s survey told him they were surprised they had such large carbon footprints. “A few people said they didn’t realize their houses were so bad and they plan to get energy audits,” he said.
Jared had other simple suggestions for people who want to reduce their carbon footprints:
• Unplug cell phone chargers and use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
• Reuse leftover plastic bags. Bring your own reusable shopping bags to the store.
• Replace standard lightbulbs with CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs when they burn out.
• Recycle your waste. Compost.
• Choose a more fuel-efficient car rather than a gas guzzler.
• Carpool whenever possible.
• Stop using chemicals and fertilizers on your lawn. Leave the clippings spread across the grass to decompose.
• Plant a garden and grow your own vegetables.
Jared said he was inspired by Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, to do what he can to help the environment.
The son of Robert Kapel, a gastroenterologist at Danbury Hospital, and Jamie Kapel, a lawyer, he has an older brother, Brandon, and a younger sister, Lindsey.
Jared practices what he preaches about energy efficiency at home. “I’m constantly yelling at my brother and sister to turn off the lights and not use plastics. Our family’s carbon footprint is getting lower,” he said.
As the co-captain of the high school’s golf team, Jared said, he would like to see more eco-friendly golf courses developed that use water more efficiently and fewer pesticides.
As a model, he cited the Mirimichi “green” golf course in Tennessee, developed by performer Justin Timberlake. Of the course’s 300 acres, only 80 are mowed. The rest are transitioning back to native species. To avoid the use of chemicals, weeds are handpicked at the golf course.
“I hope to see more golf courses use less fertilizers. It takes time. It’s hard to get people to change,” he said.
As a follow-up, he would like to keep in contact with the households that participated in the survey. He’s optimistic that many households will take steps to reduce their carbon footprints.
“If I recalculated the average carbon footprint for these houses after a time period of one year, I would hope to see a substantial decrease in pounds of CO2 per year per household member,” he said.
To read more about Jared’s study, visit his website, respectourresources.com.