How Green Are You?

Check out Real Simple's carbon facts to see exactly how your (small) actions can make a (big) difference.

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Photo by Laurie Frankel

Your Carbon-Saving Equation

See how your earth-friendly measures make a difference: Simply add up the pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) next to those actions listed below. For a more tangible sense of what that number means, work out whether you have saved enough to offset the pollution that one car emits in a year by dividing your total by 12,037 (the pounds of CO2 that the average car emits annually).*

Action: Recycle Aluminum and Steel Cans

Why it’s worth it: Recycling aluminum and steel cans directs valuable metal into new products, saving 95 percent of the energy required to manufacture aluminum from scratch and 74 percent of the energy needed to make steel.
Your one-year effect: 414 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 3,934,118 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Recycle Newspapers and Magazines

Why it’s worth it: Americans throw away more paper than any other kind of trash. Recycling the pounds of magazines and newspapers the average household accrues in a year not only saves trees but also reduces contributions to air pollution by 95 percent.
Your one-year effect: 581 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 5,511,566 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

* All calculations are based on savings per household except for those relating to driving, which are per person. 

Action: Wash Laundry on a Cooler Setting

Why it’s worth it: About 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heating the water. Assuming you already wash half your laundry in cold, moving the other half from hot to warm can save a substantial amount of energy.
Your one-year effect: 349 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 3,316,442 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Switch Five Lightbulbs to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

Why it’s worth it: A 25-watt compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) provides the same amount of light as a 75-watt incandescent. CFLs use a third of the energy and last 10 times longer. Switching five bulbs could save about $400 over the CFLs’ lifetime.
Your one-year effect: 500 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 4,751,350 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for a year.

Action: Compost a Fifth of Your Garbage

Why it’s worth it: Putting less trash on the curb reduces the amount of fuel required to haul it away. Plus, composting food scraps, like apple cores, keeps them out of landfills, where they can break down to release a potent greenhouse gas.
Your one-year effect: 832 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 7,906,246 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Modify the Temperature on Your Thermostat

Why it’s worth it: There’s no reason to keep the house perfectly heated or cooled when you’re not there to appreciate it. Modifying the temperature just four degrees with a programmable thermostat will save energy―and about $130 a year.
Your one-year effect: 1,300 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 12,353,510 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Follow the Speed Limit

Why it’s worth it: It may be tempting to drive 75 miles an hour, but sticking to the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit improves fuel economy by almost 15 percent. That will reduce your car’s emissions and help you save about $200 at the pump.
Your one-year effect: 1,500 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 28,121,158 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Use Power Strips

Why it’s worth it: Is your TV turned off? Think again. A percentage of your home’s electricity goes to devices that are not in use but are plugged in. To kill the current and lower your bill, plug them into a power strip and flip the switch.
Your one-year effect: 1,608 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 15,280,342 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.

Action: Drive a Hybrid Electric Car

Why it’s worth it: The most fuel-efficient midsize hybrid gets a combined mileage of 46 miles a gallon; a typical midsize car gets 25 miles a gallon. By not using as much gas, you’re saving 4½ barrels of oil a year, plus about $560.
Your one-year effect: 3,660 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 68,615,626 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for a year.

Action: Buy Green Power

Why it’s worth it: More than 50 percent of retail customers in the United States have an option of buying a green-power product from their utility. Find out if you have this option at epa.gov/greenpower.
Your one-year effect: 20,508 pounds of CO2 saved.
The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to 194,881,372 nonhybrid cars taken off the road for one year.