LIFE

How one man set out on a path to shrink his carbon footprint

Dirk Gratzel

Dirk Gratzel  

Some people count their calories. Dirk Gratzel counts his carbon emissions.

The software entrepreneur from Germany is among a small but growing number of people looking for ways to cut their personal greenhouse gas emissions from levels that scientists say are unsustainable.

“I see that nature has changed a lot compared to how it used to be,” he said.

After much searching, Mr. Gratzel found Matthias Finkbeiner, who heads the Institute of Environmental Technology at Berlin’s Technical University. Mr. Finkbeiner, a leading figure in the field of environmental accounting, offered his assistance.

First, Mr. Gratzel documented his life in minute detail. “Everything I eat, drink, and how long I shower. How much I drive, where to, what means of transport I use, what I consume, how much garbage I produce and what types,” said Mr. Gratzel, who spent three months entering the data.

Mr. Gratzel was shocked to find his annual emissions were the equivalent of 27 metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than twice the German average of 11 tons.

“We found that his footprint was pretty enormous,” said Mr. Finkbeiner, who attributed a substantial share of emissions to Mr. Gratzel’s extensive business travel.

Mr. Gratzel set about shrinking his footprint. This included improving the insulation on his 18th-century house, getting rid of his SUV and travelling mostly by train and bike. “I don’t fly at all anymore. I’ve reduced my consumption to an absolute minimum and changed my eating habits,” he said. His current annual emissions are about six or seven tonnes per year.

Scientists believe an annual budget of about 2 tonnes per person is sustainable, meaning Mr. Gratzel is way over budget.

“I’ve got a lot to make up for,” he said. Planting trees, a common means of offsetting emissions, would require him to grow enough oaks and beeches to cover 100 hectares of land.

Fritz Reusswig, a sociologist, said more of such efforts were needed.

Mr. Reusswig has spent the last year monitoring the efforts of 100 Berlin families to shrink their carbon footprint. “We give them advice on how to save energy by steps like adjusting their refrigerator, switching electricity supplier or changing their eating habits, he said.

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