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Four Ways to Reduce a City's Carbon Footprint


By University Alliance
Four Ways City Planners Can Reduce Carbon Footprints

The more fossil fuels that are burned by humans, the more carbon dioxide (CO2), otherwise known as a greenhouse gas, that is released into the atmosphere.  A carbon footprint is the total amount of CO2 an organization or an activity emits. Humanity’s demand on nature has caused our worldwide carbon footprint to increase 11-fold since 1961.  Cities and areas with dense population in particular need to focus on reducing their carbon footprints, first by determining how large the footprint is, and then taking specific and effective steps to shrink it.

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology used the following seven components to measure a city’s carbon inventory: heating and industrial fuels; industrial processes; ground transportation; electricity; waste, marine traffic and aviation. Here are some specific things that cities can do (and are doing) to reduce their carbon footprints.

1. Use Smart Meters

Smart meters offer huge potential benefits to the environment. Their advanced technology records energy consumption in short intervals of an hour or less, then automatically sends meter readings to the energy supplier.  With their in-home displays, smart meters give consumers real-time information and feedback on their energy usage, how much it costs and its potential impact on the environment.  Smart meters can also help integrate renewable energy sources such as windmills and solar panels. 

2. Develop Better Public Transportation

A properly optimized public transportation system is one of the most critical areas to consider when examining ways to reduce a city’s carbon footprint.  Households that use public transportation typically drive around 4,400 fewer miles per year than those that only drive cars.  Buses, trolleys, subways, cable cars and commuter trains all contribute to an annual savings of 4.2 billion gallons of fuel annually in the United States. 

Cities making an investment in public transportation have already reduced our country’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons a year. Put another way, the savings would be equivalent to the electricity use of Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and New York City combined.

3. Optimize Buildings

One of the more popular ways for a city to reduce its carbon footprint is to make its buildings more energy efficient.  There are a number of practical, cost-effective ways that building owners can lower their emissions. 

  • Make the building weathertight by adding weather stripping, sealing elevator houses on the roofs, tightening loose windows and caulking outlets
  • Provide a healthy indoor environment that is free of mold, moisture and carbon monoxide by installing a ventilation system
  • Use triple-glazed windows with fiberglass or wood frames
  • Add new, or improve existing, insulation
  • In summer months, install sunshades above windows to keep out direct sunlight

4. Harness Solar Energy

Recent technological advances have allowed solar power to gain more mainstream acceptance and attract the interest and investment of major utility companies.  While its per-kilowatt cost is still considered expensive compared to coal and natural gas, the overall cost is decreasing rapidly. 

City officials and local governments have a responsibility to help their communities be more accountable for the size of their carbon footprint.  By tracking a city’s demand on natural capital, city officials are better able to answer and address their communities’ questions and concerns about how their resources are being allocated and used.  If local governments do not account for their resources or fail to actively seek ways to reduce their carbon footprint, the extent of threats and opportunities may be overlooked, which could potentially cause long-term environmental harm to the region.

Category: Public Administration