top of page

Early retirement carbon footprint

I try to be a good citizen, and hopefully I mostly am. These days, being a good citizen includes minimising our impact on the environment, and my instinct is that my carbon footprint is reasonably good. In my favour are:

  1. I (along with my wife) live in a compact apartment (61m² / 657ft²). It's size and recent construction should make it energy efficient.

  2. My estimate is that we drive twice a week on average, which doesn't seem that much.

  3. I don't have lots of stuff, and don't buy things for the sake of it.

  4. I follow a vegan/plant based diet.

On the less good side of the equation:

  1. Our vehicle is a diesel campervan (although it is modern and it's quite small).

  2. In 2022, I took 3 trips that involved flying.

So, when I decided to calculate my carbon footprint, I was expecting to receive a feel good answer and give myself a congratulatory pat on the back. Boy, was I wrong!


The process of calculating my carbon footprint was more difficult than I expected. Firstly, there are a lot of different calculators out there, so which one should we choose? I tried a couple, and they didn't come up with the exact same answers, possibly because they vary a little in the information they ask for. The other difficulty I had is that our heating and hot water is supplied centrally for our apartment complex and I've had to make some assumptions and guesses around this item.


Early retirement carbon footprint
My early retirement carbon footprint - help!

Anyway, without further delay, this is what my carbon footprint looked like - a whopping 16 tonnes. My result has a red background and, in this case, red means bad! Whatever good citizen credentials I imagined I had seem to be in doubt.


Although I'm certainly not the smartest of guys, I figure I'm also not completely stupid. But I was far off the mark in thinking that my small apartment and vegan diet would translate into me being some kind of environmental superhero. I know that flying and driving are not good for the environment, but until I saw the result of the carbon footprint calculator, I had no idea just how significantly bad they were.


The chart below provides a little more analysis:

Early retirement carbon footprint

Aircraft: CO₂ emissions of 5.0 tonnes

This is from 3 trips, which doesn't sound too extravagant.

Trip 1: Switzerland to Finland. Return trip flight time 8h30m for a family holiday

Trip 2: Switzerland to UK. Return trip flight time 3h30m for son's graduation

Trip 3: Switzerland to Philippines. Return trip flight time 36h10m for travel/holiday


I've learned how much flying adds to my carbon footprint, particularly long haul flights, I really didn't realise how significant it is.


Car: CO₂ emissions of 3.1 tonnes

Although we don't use our vehicle (a VW campervan) that frequently, perhaps twice a week, we still cover quite a distance. On average, 25,354km (15,754 miles) per year.

A return trip to see our daughter is 580km (360 miles). Perhaps we did this 6 times.

We drive from France to the UK once a year which is a round trip of 2,170km (1,348 miles).

I drove to Berlin twice last year, a total of 4,500km (2,796 miles).

We took a campervan trip to the South of France last year, I'm guessing close to 2,000km (1,242km).


These trips account for around half the total distance driven - as of now, I can't picture how we get to the other half. It will be interesting to see how this year's mileage works out.


Our emissions aren't helped by our vehicle being a 2 litre diesel campervan which, although modern, is clearly not the most efficient vehicle on the market. We could consider buying an electric vehicle for day to day trips and using the campervan only when we plan to use the "camper" part. However, the manufacturing of a second vehicle would presumably generate CO₂ emissions, so I wonder what the real gain would actually be.


Heating: CO₂ emissions of 4.1 tonnes

To be honest, I'm not sure how much to trust this figure given the assumptions and guesses that I made trying to take account of the centrally provided heating and hot water. We live in a place with snowy winters, so we do need our heating.

Our living area thermostat is set to 22ºC (72ºF) during the day and 18ºC (64ºF) at night

Our bedrooms are set to 17ºC (63ºF) during the day and 20.5ºC (69ºF) at night


We live in a fairly small apartment so we're not heating rooms that we don't use, and the heating is turned off once the weather warms up.


I do need to find out if my assumptions for the centrally provided heating and hot water are correct.


The rest

To be honest, "the rest" is dwarfed by the carbon footprint from my flights, miles driven and heating, so it's pretty obvious where I should focus if I want to reduce my carbon footprint. For information, the societal column, at 1.6 tonnes, is a share of the country's (France in this case) services such as transport infrastructure, defence, healthcare, education, etc split evenly per capital of population.


Next Steps

I'm probably not ready to think through next steps properly, as I only put my numbers into the calculators this morning and the answer was not at all what I was expecting. Yesterday, I was blissfully ignorant, believing my footprint, while not perfect, was likely to be reasonably good.


Now I know that's not the case, but do I stop doing the things I want? Do I abandon the campervan that I wanted for quite a while and give up on the travelling that has both tested me and brought me enjoyment? Right now, I'm not ready to make that choice. However, I am now better informed, and can therefore at least start thinking about those choices.


There are probably others who are further ahead that I am on thinking about their carbon footprint. If you have any comments or suggestions, it would be good to hear them.

24 comments

Recent Posts

See All

24 comentarios


Thought provoking post! I asked my son to take some vegetable chicken scraps to the garden for composting one afternoon, and he asked me why I didn't just put them in the trash. I explained the trash and pollution issues and my son told me that the vast majority of these problems are created by, and can really only be fixed by corporations. Maybe. But I feel like I should do whatever I can. You probably do too. In even thinking about it, you're doing more than many people do.

Me gusta
Contestando a

Haha, I hadn't noticed the bit about vegetable chicken scraps...maybe it's a new plant based eating thing🤣

My friend said much the same thing to me as your son said to you, in that the big carbon footprint comes from industry and the big improvements need to come from them - what we do as individuals is small in comparison. My response to my friend was that, while it may be true, those same companies/industries have to respond to their customers i.e. us individuals. If enough us tell them that they need to change more quickly, then that's what they will have to do, or one of their competitors will be brave and forward thinking and take their place. Maybe…

Me gusta

Stephen Holness
Stephen Holness
30 ene 2023

Basically if you do any flying, you will blow out a carbon budget! Painful but true, until they solve the deal with aviation fuel. Train may be a better option for in Europe trips, but not always practical. Longer duration trips would be more efficient than a couple of shorter holidays; but still at the end there is a carbon cost. Then it is a question of deciding whether the carbon is ok. There may be some room for offsetting, but one does need to be careful about just using that as a "first world" get out of jail card to carry on without actually changing anything. Personally I think moderating travel, then over-investing in good offsets is probabl…

Me gusta
Stephen Holness
Stephen Holness
30 ene 2023
Contestando a

I really like your 100% local, 100% audited in family offset!

Me gusta

Vince
Vince
28 ene 2023

"Our living area thermostat is set to 22ºC (72ºF) during the day and 18ºC (64ºF) at night


Our bedrooms are set to 17ºC (63ºF) during the day and 20.5ºC (69ºF) at night"


Expect a telling off from President Macron who decreed that we should all set the thermostat to 19 degrees C to prevent power cuts!

Me gusta
Contestando a

I don't think there's any chance of me getting Sally to buy into this, and to float the idea may well be suicidal on my part. The thermostat says that our living area is at 21°C, although a different thermometer shows 19/20°C and I have 3 layers on to just about feel comfortable. The top one is quite a thick zip up fleece, and my hands are definitely on the cooler side of what I'd prefer. What I have found is that the so called trickle vents on our windows let in a heck of a draught, and I think we should try covering these a little to reduce that while still allowing sufficient ventilation to prevent condensation etc.

Me gusta

Vince
Vince
28 ene 2023

Hi David, lots to think about here and everybody can do their part. My personal bugbear is waste, and we collectively produce way too much of it. Clearly reducing waste is not good for the economics the way our society is set up and the vested interests try to manage this through various forms of greenwashing. There are some obvious wins like reducing unnecessary travel and heating as you have pointed out, but others like producing millions of shiny electric cars with their enormous environmental footprint to replace older petrol cars which have already been built and now spend 98% of their time sitting on the driveway is dubious at best imo. Same for fancy gadgets to control all…

Me gusta
Vince
Vince
29 ene 2023
Contestando a

I completely agree with your last point, it really sent the wrong message!

Me gusta

Johnston Orr
Johnston Orr
27 ene 2023

Great post again, David. I was pretty sure flying, and particularly long-haul, would be a huge no-no. If we consider that something like 80% of the world’s population have never flown, we can see how much we in the first world are the problem here. I’ve got mine down to just work flights now but that’s still not good enough.

I‘m using my bike for urban transport because it’s cheap and good for me as well as the planet. Might that help with your local journeys? (In the style of Mr Money Mustache)

Me gusta
Contestando a

While I knew that flying wasn't good, I didn't realise how big a part of my footprint it would be, so doing the calculation has helped me be much better informed. I hadn't heard the 80% of the world's population having never flown, that's an interesting statistic.


In terms of local journeys, I almost never take the car (campervan) - our town is relatively small and I typically walk, just because I prefer to do so more than anything else. I estimate we use the car once or twice a week (probably twice a week on average) which is when we have to go outside our town, but some of these are clearly have some very high mileage journeys which…

Me gusta
bottom of page