3

The headline says it all, I'm looking for a standard way of assessing a lifestyle against environmental criteria. I'm thinking of some sort of lifestyle questionnaire that will produce a score from 0 to 100%

I have a friend at work with what I regard as a high 'environmental conscience' who's always very keen on the latest environmental battlefront, however when she discusses her lifestyle I'm not very convinced that she's as environmentally friendly as she thinks she is. I find this particularly annoying when she tries to get me to change my lifestyle to match hers!

Examples.... She drives an electric car, and thinks I ought to trade in my 12 y/o diesel for something similar. However, she buys a new electric car every 2 years, only lives 3 miles from work and keeps a 2nd (petrol) car for use at the weekends. I cycle to work 20 miles a day and only use my dirty old diesel for maybe 100 miles a week. Whilst I know that on the face of it electric cars are cleaner than diesel, dig down a little deeper and I think that out of the two options described above, I'm probably having less negative impact than her

She's invested in a wood pellet boiler to heat her house. I have a 40 year old non-condensing gas boiler to heat mine. On the face of it the wood pellet burner ought to be more environmentally friendly, but... the pellets are shipped in from Canada, the thermostat is permanently set to 23 degrees C, it costs over £3000 a year to run. My thermostat is set to 19 degrees C, I only heat the room I'm in and my gas bill is less than £800 a year, if it gets cold I put on an extra jumper or light an open fire using windfall logs from the forest next to me.

Final example - she religiously sorts and re-cycles two bin-fulls of waste every week. I'm not very hot on recycling, but I only throw out half a bin of rubbish a fortnight.

I think my friend has a very simple view, electric cars good, diesel cars bad. Wood burner good, gas burner bad. Recycling good, throwing away bad. I think there's a much deeper picture that also needs to be looked at however neither of us have been able to convince the other of our position.

So - is there an independent, impartial, unbiased, peer-reviewed and scientific methodology for assessing an individuals lifestyle to evaluate that persons environmental impact?

migrated from earthscience.stackexchange.com Jun 25 at 9:51

This question came from our site for those interested in the geology, meteorology, oceanography, and environmental sciences.

  • 3
    BTW, the answer is No. Even for single items a full LCA is hard to define. – Jan Doggen Jun 24 at 11:04
  • Frame challenge: I'd bet my bottom dollar that neither of your lifestyles are truly sustainable (it's pretty much impossible if you are living a vaguely "normal" lifestyle in an industrialised country). Don't focus on where you are, think about the next most impactful change both of you could make to get closer to being sustainable. Then when that becomes embedded, make the next change. And so on. – aucuparia Jun 27 at 13:33
3

The best measure for comparing lifestyles from an ecological point of view is probably the ecological footprint. An ecological footprint is a measure for the amount of productive land and sea area that is needed to support a particular activity, lifestyle, person, or group of people. Or more simple; it's how much land you need to produce something or support someone.

There are a number of online ecological footprint calculators with varying quality. Most calculators target individuals or households and can be used as a rough estimate for the impact of one's lifestyle. A short and incomplete list of calculators can be found here. Since most calculators are based on national data, it's best to use a calculator that was created for your country of residence if you can find it.

Ecological footprint is a rather crude measure. The methodology uses lots of simplifications and heuristics because it's impossible to go into depth for individual products, services and personal circumstances. In any case it's the best for such a wide-scope analysis such as lifestyle. If you'd like to know more about it, I recommend visiting the Global Footprint Network website or check out this site's tag.

1

As others have said, there isn't a single place to look.

For the cars, however, "NextGreenCar" has a comparison tool you can use. Using your figures of 100 miles a week (so 62,400 miles over your 12 year old car's lifespan), and my own 14 year old Diesel car and a new Kia e-Niro replaced every 2 years for comparison:

Diesel: Car 2.65T, Fuel 3.7T, Tailpipe 16.98T, total 23.33T/co2

Electric replaced every 2 years: Car 4.61T x 6, Fuel 5.75T, total 33.41T/co2

Electric kept for 12 years: Car 4.61m Fuel 5.75, total 10.37T/co2

Of course that's not really a fair comparison, as the second-hand EVs would be sold on and not scrapped after those two years - but it does show that the manufacture is a huge part of the total environmental cost of the car, and so while new EV vs new IC is obvious, it's less so for new EV vs old IC.

0

May I suggest measuring the financial cost of such lifestyles and the cost of offsetting any CO2 emissions.

For example whilst electric cars have about 10% larger CO2 footprint from manufacturing that internal combustion cars, the electric car energy has a CO2 footprint per mile about a third of that of an internal combustion vehicle per mile.

Electric cars are however about three times more expensive than secondhand internal combustion vehicles. If you had enough money to buy an electric car, but instead bought a secondhand diesel and spent all your left over money on carbon off-sets, it would be enough to offset driving a few million miles.

If both the electric car driver and the diesel car driver paid to offset any CO2 emissions and be carbon neutral all the way through, then you'd have to drive the electric car for over 150,000 miles before it becomes more cost effective than a petrol car.

The same logic can be applied to your central heating. The cost to run and CO2 offset a combi gas boiler is less than the cost to run and offset a woodpellet boiler.

Its the subtle difference between being having a low carbon lifestyle and a carbon neutral lifestyle. Its expensive to take the low carbon options, and its cheap to choose the higher carbon option and pay to offset.

Edit I'll cost it out, you may find different values in your own region and for different car preferences, I'm in the UK, these costs are accurate for me.

Costs for an electric car

Purchase cost £25,000

Manufacturing CO2 emissions 15,000Kg

Cost of offset manufacturing £150

Energy for 400 miles

Electric cars seem to average around 22kWh for 100 miles

400 miles would be around 96kWh which is about £12

UK electricity generation Carbon intensity today is 0.132 Kg per kWh (this is low for the UK, usually its around 0.280 Kg per kWh, by contrast Norway gets 0.034 Kg per kWh and the USA is around 0.500 Kg per kWh)

So 12.7 Kg in CO2 emission to travel 400 miles

To offset 12.7 Kg costs around £0.13

Energy for 160,000 miles

Four hundred times the above values

38,400 kWh electricty costing £4,915

CO2 emissions 5,069 Kg

Cost to offset £44

Total cost to buy and drive 160,000 in an electric car

£30,109

Cost for a petrol secondhand car

Purchase £2,000

Manufacturing 12,000 Kg CO2 (although if you are re-using someone else's car you might consider the manufacturing costs to be amortised)

Manufacturing CO2 offset cost £120

400 miles energy costs

40 litre full tank £45 (I filled up this morning so this is accurate)

CO2 emissions for 40 litres 92.4 Kg

Cost to offset CO2 for 400 miles £0.92

160,000 miles energy costs

£18,000 petrol cost

36,960 Kg CO2

£368 to offset CO2

Total cost to buy and drive 160,000 in a petrol car

£20,488

The electric car is 50% more expensive even after 160,000 miles, it would take years to drive that sort of distance. Furthermore, the £10,000 cost difference takes a significant amount of employment to pay for. Median wage in the UK is around £29,000, you could get the cheaper car and work four months less to reduce your CO2 footprint, no commuting for a third of a year.

I haven't considered maintenance costs, it might be that the petrol car is £10,000 more expensive. But considering it only cost £2,000 to buy, this is unlikely. Furthermore electric car batteries ought to be replaced after 50,000 miles which is a cost that hasn't been included.

Also not considered is the re-sale value of the vehicles, if the colleague in the question sells their car every two years. I understand the resale value of electric cars varies between 30% and 60%, suppose we use 50% and for the second hand petrol car, its a scrapper with no resale value. Considering fuel costs and resale value for changing the car after two years the total costs would be:-

Electric £13,650

Petrol £5,800

You still have to work £8,000 more to pay for the low carbon option.

Boilers

This page at the Energy Saving Trust suggests that wood pellet biofuel heating is £9 to £89 more expensive to run per year compared to an old gas boiler. If you had a new A rated gas boiler the wood pellet is up to £798 more expensive to run.

The article suggests that installation such a biofuel heating system is between £8,000 and £15,000. A 40-year old gas boiler has zero installation costs, maybe maintenance costs of a hundred or so a year, maybe not.

The article suggests at best, depending on the CO2 footprint calculation, a wood pellet bio fuel system uses 7.5 tonnes of CO2 less per year than the most gas heating. In order to offset that you'd have to pay £75 per year, which is easily payable out of the savings from having a more efficient gas boiler.

  • 2
    I think you'll need to provide some data to back up these claims. The best way to clean up a mess, is not to make a mess in the first place. – LShaver Jun 28 at 14:49
  • 1
    This is incomplete. Perhaps the numbers here are correct, I don't know, but this doesn't amount to a methodology. It's just a couple particular points. Using dollars as a standard unit for everything uncovered in an analysis may be a good idea but it's only the tip of the iceberg. – Jean-Paul Calderone Jun 28 at 18:47
0

Yes.

There are plenty of calculators available. The calculator I used (sorry, in Finnish language only), estimated that I produce 8500 kg of CO2-equivalent per year when I entered everything except my car, my electricity use and heating of the house where I live (I prefer to calculate car, electricity and heating myself because I known the kWh and litre figures for those).

The calculators are heavily dependent on local conditions. For example, I live in a sparsely populated country where diesel fuel is heavily used to haul things around. Agriculture in the cold country where I live is inefficient, and thus food-related CO2 emissions are higher than in many other countries.

My car produces 3400 kg of CO2 per year directly and indirectly (oil refining, tailpipe emissions).

The heating of my house by coal-fueled district heating produces 3220 kg of CO2 per year.

The electricity I use is 4000 kWh / a plus I'm planning to purchase an electric vehicle that requires 5000 kWh / a.

So, my figure is 15000 kg CO2 / a + 4000 kWh / a today + extra 5000 kWh / a in the future. What is your figure? Find some calculator and estimate your ecological footprint using it.

To offset this, I own forest that absorbs 40000 kg CO2 / a from the atmosphere, and enough green electricity production capacity for bit less than 20 000 kWh / a of electricity.

  • From your answer I take it you are using a carbon footprint calculator? While this does provide a partial answer to the OPs question, such a calculator focuses only on emitted greenhouse gases and leaves out many other things such as water usage, pollution, resource depletion. Then again no method will ever be complete. – THelper Jul 10 at 7:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy