Less Gas, More Money, Smaller Carbon Footprint

Did you know that your car is the single largest source of carbon production you put into the environment – aka – your carbon footprint?  If you are looking to do your part and reduce that footprint, your car is a great place to start.

Here’s the plan:  use less gas, save more money and you will shrink your carbon foot print substantially.  Pretty simple!

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a hot-button issue these days. And for good reason. CO2 contributes to air pollution and rising temperatures. These things contribute directly and adversely to our health – think of asthma, lung disease, heat stroke, etc. – and are a serious detriment to our local and global ecosystems, climate, and sea levels.


If you are one of the over 90% of Americans  who own and use a car, and likely even have a few in your driveway, getting savvy about ways to use less gas can really pay off. Using less gasoline puts more money in your pocket and drastically reduces your personal impact on carbon emissions.  Wait you say, drastically? Yes.


But before we go any further, you may ask another pertinent question: what’s the big deal? Consider this. According to Cal Berkeley’s Cool Climate site, the average annual household carbon footprint in my town is nearly 64 metric tons CO2 equivalent – that’s among the highest in the nation, and its typical for much of the entire New York City area and other major US metro areas. In my town, one third of the average household carbon footprint comes from transportation. What’s more, transportation is the biggest single contributor to a family’s carbon footprint – more than from housing, food, goods and services.

NY Metro Carbon Footprint

Wonder how your town or you personally rate? Using the same Cal Berkeley Cool Climate site, you can calculate your family’s carbon footprint and see just how well, or not, you are doing.

When you think about it, it makes total sense that our cars are our biggest carbon contribution. Unless living and working in a city, our cars are essential for us to get to work and school, do our shopping, and socialize. That being said, we can use our cars smarter. So how can we emit less carbon as we drive? Here are some ideas.

Use less gasoline. If you own one car, or have a couple in the driveway, get savvy about ways to use less gas.

First consider the obvious – drive less. Carpool with your friends to kids’ activities. Group your errands together and slash miles from your odometer. Ride your bike or walk whenever you can. Is your company amenable to remote working arrangements? Try to work from home when you can. If you drive 1,000 miles/month and can reduce your miles by 10%, you can put about $240/year savings back in your pocket and keep over 1,200 lbs of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Use the smaller car, if you have more than one, whenever you can. If you are fortunate to own two, pick the one with the higher MPG whenever possible. If 100 miles a month you choose to drive the car with a 5 MPG better fuel efficiency, in a year’s time you can save over $50 and keep over 280 lbs of CO2 from being emitted.

Stop idling in the pick-up line, parking lot, train crossing, draw bridge, or at long lights. Every hour of idling uses 0.4 gallons of gasoline in a large sedan. Let’s say you sit idling 30 minutes a day. At $2.40/gallon, if you turned your car off instead, you’d save $175 using 73 less gallons of gas a year and spew 615 less lbs of CO2 into the air!

Empty the trunk of heavy stuff you’ve been hauling around: donations, sports equipment, you know… The EPA says that for every 100 pounds taken out of a vehicle, the fuel economy is increased by 1-2%. Based on a gallon of gasoline costing $2.40, this translates to savings of between $0.02-$0.03 a gallon.

Go with the flow. Coast when you can! Be gentler on the gas and brake pedals, and watch your fuel efficiency gage ramp up. Hard stops and racing out of the gate may be imperative for an Indy 500 driver, but not at the lights you hit on the local grocery run.

Trade up on fuel efficiency. If you are in the market for a new car, finding one that is 10 mpg better prevents about 540 lbs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and will cost an average of $100 less at the gas pump per year.
Technology, financial incentives, tax credits, and performance improvements, such as miles per charge, are steadily making hybrid and all-electric vehicles (HEV’s and EV’s) a real viable option these days. Coupling the switch to a renewable power contract for your home with driving an electric or hybrid-electric drops your transportation carbon footprint to near zero.

Are your wheels turning? Need more concrete incentive? Check out the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator.  It lets you play with ways to save gasoline – less miles, better fuel efficiency, etc. – and see for yourself the potential results, both in dollars and carbon. As you put these tips into practice, your wallet, your car, your neighborhood air quality, and our environment will all love you.

Here’s a bonus.

Double down on your savings. When your gas tank is close to “E”, don’t be tempted to pull into the next gas station you find. It’s common to see $0.05/gallon price swings within a 5-mile range in most towns. Filling up with the cheapest gas each week could put $50 back in your wallet this year. Use the Gas Buddy app and you will always find the best real-time price on gasoline wherever you are.

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