Environmental impact or sustainability assessment
Conduct an environmental assessment of an average household or of a small business for which you can assess basic energy consumption. (Your parents, aunt/uncle, grandparents or friend’s household would work.) (If the household/business has already taken significant steps to lower their environmental footprint, you can assess the effectiveness and impact of these steps, comparing the consumption situation before the steps taken with the one after investments were made.)
1) (6 points) Establish a baseline: what is your current consumption level going into the assessment (or the one prior to significant changes that were already made). Ideally you use real data on your energy consumption (electricity, natural gas, gasoline) based on utility bills. Alternatively, if you have no easy access to such data, use online research to determine average household energy consumption figures published by government agencies. Break down energy consumption into at least its key components, such as by main activity, household (appliances, lighting, heating/cooling), transportation (amount of driving, bus, train, air travel etc.). What are the largest sources of household energy consumption? Your focus will be on energy, but try to say something about your waste generation and water consumption (anecdotal). Convert your energy consumption estimate into CO2 emissions, using the model calculation provided in the supporting material on Gauchospace (or equivalent conversion tables you can find online). What is the yearly financial cost of energy consumption for your selected entity, broken down by categories? What is the electricity cost of your household or small business approximately? How much gasoline do you use? How many airplane trips do you take a year? How many miles? TRY TO CALCULATE/ESTIMATE AN ANNUAL CONSUMPTION AND COST FIGURE (back of envelop).
2) (4 points) Identify no-cost opportunities to reduce your environmental impact. What conservation opportunities can you identify that require no upfront financial investments: departing from your baseline assessment, how much money could you potentially save, and how much CO2 emissions could you avoid? How easy would it be to save water and reduce your waste?
3) (3 points) Focusing on energy, broadly discuss investment opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint? What opportunities can you identify that would require financial investments but would help you reduce CO2 over time and save money? Try to roughly estimate the return on investment in terms of money saved and emissions avoided after 5 or 10 years using some back-of-the envelop guestimate/model calculation (although this could be done with a spreadsheet like EXCEL, I am happy with an informed estimate). If you use calculation models from the Internet, try to use your own baseline data! A realistic real-world calculation would compare capital investment costs (principal and interest) and cost savings over time assuming certain energy price developments. You do NOT need to do that but try to answer the question to what extent investments into energy savings may pay off or not, under current framework conditions (policy incentives, energy prices)?
4) (7 points) How easy/difficult is it on the individual level to reduce your carbon footprint? Draw some societal and political conclusions from your previous discussion. How difficult would it be for you (or the household/business you are looking at) to reduce your direct and indirect carbon (CO2 emissions) footprint 40% or 100% over current levels? Discuss the economic and political constraints you are facing? What political steps could help overcome these constraints? (For background: The average U.S. citizen emits about 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, Europeans roughly 8, Chinese roughly 6, and Indians less than 1 ton per year and person)
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