As some of you may know, I am currently working towards a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology. This semester, I was in a class called Issues in Biodiversity. One of our assignments for the semester was to develop an Action Plan - a sustainable action that we are not already doing that will benefit sustainability and/or biodiversity.
Since I am already working towards reducing my waste, I looked to an ecological footprint assessment to determine my action for the semester. I used the Global Footprint Network Ecological Footprint calculator to determine my ecological footprint and the factors contributing most to it. The results were unsurprising, but I had been avoiding confronting the truth about my footprint. My transportation habits are by far the greatest contributor to my ecological footprint! And so I decided that this would be my action plan.
Original Action Plan (14 February 2018):
This semester I will be focusing on carpooling to work. I live with my boyfriend and we both also work at the same place. However, most days we drive to work separately (admittedly it is my decision to do so) because I enjoy those 20 minutes of time to myself to listen to the music I like as loud as I want and reflect on my day in peace. I recently completed an ecological footprint analysis, and found that transportation was by far my highest impact action (screenshot above for reference as to just how much higher this was!). I've been working towards a zero waste lifestyle for the past year, which has translated into consuming less, buying durable and sustainable when I do buy new items, eating less meat, eating locally, and overall reducing my waste. After I did this analysis, I realized that I was so proud of trying to go zero waste, that I had neglected this other piece of my footprint. Therefore, I will be focusing on reducing the number of miles I drive alone, specifically to and from work. This "mini-pledge" will hopefully be just the motivation I need to bring this piece of my ecological footprint down.
Now that the semester has come to an end, it’s time to reflect upon my Action Plan.
At the beginning of this semester, we did pretty well with carpooling. We carpooled about three times a week for the first three weeks - not perfect but a strong improvement! Unfortunately, we found that, as I noted in my original action plan, we both need our time to ourselves before and after work. We were living together, driving to work together, working in the same space, having lunch together, driving home together, cooking and eating dinner together, and watching Netflix or working on homework together, and repeating each day. Those 20 minutes to and from work were the only true space we had, and were our opportunities to reflect on our days. Especially after work, if one of us had a bad day at work, we didn’t have the time alone to decompress and it ended up affecting the rest of the night for both of us. We pretty quickly realized that carpooling together, while great for the environment, was not great for our relationship. A couple months later, he also got a new job downtown, so carpooling was out of the question anyway. Overall, we ended up carpooling eleven days out of the semester.
While this specific Action Plan was not exactly successful, it did get me thinking more about how I can reduce my footprint even more, especially with regard to transportation. Ohio has a driving culture - everyone has their own car and everyone drives by themselves every day. Especially in the suburbs where I live, public transportation is not always readily accessible, and there is no public transportation that can get me to work. Columbus recently won a grant to become a Smart City, and improve our public transit system so we can reduce the number of cars on the road, but for now I’m looking to other options. My solution: get a Vespa.
I mean seriously, how gorgeous is this thing? I don’t own one yet, but I’m planning to get the license in the next few weeks! Below I have a comparison of the cost of driving my current vehicle to and from work every day (top) versus driving a Vespa Primavera to and from work every day (bottom). The difference is staggering. I can save nearly $30 a month and 73% of my carbon emissions! Because I live in Ohio, driving a Vespa will not be feasible year-round, but the difference I can make just in the few months that I can are amazing.
Carpooling may not have been the success that I had hoped, but from it came a better understanding of myself, and an exciting new transportation mode. This is what I love about conservation and sustainability - there’s no one perfect answer that will solve the problems facing our planet today. But there are so many options out there that it’s always a journey to find what works for you and what doesn’t. Get creative! It’s part of the fun.