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How to offset your family’s carbon footprint

Over the years, my kids have heard my husband and I talk a lot about how to reduce our carbon footprint at home. They know we’re slowly phasing out our gas-powered appliances around the house, and that we’re concerned about climate change. So when I started researching how I could offset our family’s carbon footprint I asked them if they knew what a carbon footprint was. My 11-year-old son knew it had to do with the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. When we explained what that meant to my 8-year-old daughter, her immediate question was “What’s my carbon footprint?” 

My kids, looking at a tree

So today, I’ll try to answer that question plus how we offset our family’s carbon footprint. Because as the climate crisis evolves, it’s becoming clear to parents that this is a problem that will impact our kids. And often, our kids understand more than we think they do about climate change and the impact it will have on them. Many have heard about climate activist Greta Thunberg, and they want to know what the grown-ups are doing about it.

The problem we often face as parents is that it’s not cheap or easy to reduce our family’s carbon footprint. It can be expensive to buy an electric car (but you can read about the advantages of electric cars here.) It can be hard to get everyone in the house to use less energy at home (but OhmConnect has an awesome service that I use every week).

Wren’s* carbon offsetting service gives you one way to reduce your family’s carbon footprint while the world transitions to a cleaner economy. To be clean – carbon offsetting is not a magic bullet. The world needs major investments in clean energy and green innovation. But as we transition away from fossil fuels, carbon offsets can be one piece in the giant environmental puzzle that needs to be solved.

What is a carbon footprint? 

First things first. Let’s understand what a carbon footprint is. 

“A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions,” according to The Nature Conservancy. 

So to explain that to my 8-year-old daughter, I said that her carbon footprint comes from the gases that our family generates from doing things like driving, shopping, and turning on the lights at home. Her favorite subject is science, so she definitely understood gas 😉

The average American produces between 15 and 20 tons of carbon dioxide each year from activities such as driving, heating and air conditioning our homes, and consuming food and products. It’s almost impossible to have a zero-carbon footprint.

“To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under 2 tons by 2050,” according to The Nature Conservancy. 

Side note: My husband and I drive electric cars. But even electric cars have a carbon footprint. The energy used to charge an electric car sometimes comes from fossil fuels. Plus the car’s steel, plastic, leather, and manufacturing process has an environmental footprint. So yes, driving our electric car still contributes to our carbon footprint, but it does have a lower carbon footprint than traditional gas-powered cars.

What is a carbon offset?

A carbon offset is one way to sequester carbon in the atmosphere. It’s different than reducing your carbon footprint in that you’re still generating emissions. A carbon offset uses activities like planting trees, protecting rainforests, or regenerating the soil to capture the carbon equivalent of what you’re generating through activities like driving, shopping, or eating. So to get to net-zero emissions, we need to reduce the emissions we generate and also offset the emissions we can’t easily reduce.

How do we offset our carbon footprint? 

That’s where Wren comes in. They offer a carbon offsetting subscription service that lets you pay for projects that offset your carbon footprint. Here’s how it works: 

1.) Use Wren’s Carbon footprint calculator – Wren uses the Berkeley Cool Climate calculator and World Bank to calculate your personal carbon footprint. Keep in mind, Wren will only let you calculate your personal carbon footprint at this time. So if you live in a house with four people, you’ll need to divide the information from your home’s energy bill by four to get your personal carbon footprint. If you want your family’s carbon footprint, you run each individual’s information through the calculator, then create a group that includes those individuals. It leaves some room for improvement, but this is still the best tool I’ve found.

2.) Review your carbon report – You’ll receive a report that shows your personal carbon footprint. This is useful because it can help you find areas to improve on.

3.) Pick a carbon offsetting project to support – Wren has several carbon offsetting projects to chose from. I picked the Tech-enabled rainforest protection project because I’d read about the work the Rainforest Foundation does and I wanted to support the effort. So this fits perfectly with my own interests. You can pick from several unique projects or the Wren Fund which supports all their carbon offsetting projects combined.

Why I picked Wren to offset our carbon footprint

There are several carbon offsetting services to chose from. However, I picked Wren for a few reasons. I like their user interface. They made it easy for me to understand my carbon footprint. I also like the projects they support.

Now that I’ve been using Wren for almost a year, the reasons to love the service seem to increase every day. I’ve chatted with a few people from the company and everyone there seems smart and genuinely concerned with the environment and their customers.

In one email chat with Wren Co-Founder Mimi Tran Zambetti, I asked her to explain why she and her partners started Wren. Here’s what she said:

“After the IPCC 2018 report came out, my co-founders and I felt hopeless—like we had no chance against the climate crisis. But as we did more research, we found over 100 solutions to the climate crisis that are ready to be implemented today (from rainforest protection to putting carbonized wood in soil), we just need to fund them. We launched Wren to make it easy for anyone to take action on the climate crisis by funding the most promising solutions,” said Zambetti. 

I love this. I started EarthyB for a similar reason. I wanted to make it easy for people to find and support environmental solutions that are available now.

With Wren, now not only do I support a carbon offsetting project I wouldn’t have found otherwise, but it’s also become a fun project to share with my kids. We even gave the gift* of a month of carbon offsets through Wren to one of my son’s friends, and it helped his family learn about offsetting their family’s carbon footprint. 

Read: Earth Day inspiration from the women leading today’s sustainability movement to read Mimi’s Earth Day quote.

The cost of offsetting your family’s carbon footprint

It costs about $20 per month for the average person to offset their carbon footprint. So to offset the footprint for a family of four, it would cost about $80 per month. That does add up to a good chunk of change. If that sounds like too much for your family, start by using the carbon calculator* to offset one family member’s carbon footprint.

Pick a project to support that your kids are interested in. Each month you’ll receive an email with an update about the impact of that project. It’s a fun and easy way for the kids to understand how carbon offsets work, and a good reminder to talk about other activities that will help reduce your family’s carbon footprint.

Carbon offsetting activities

It’s often easier to reduce our emissions than to offset them on our own. But some carbon offsetting activities your kids might enjoy include planting trees and native flowers and bushes in your own yard. If they like gardening you can talk to them about the importance of bees and healthy soil. There’s a great documentary that explains regenerative farming that my son loved called The Biggest Little Farm. It’s so cute!

You can also talk to your kids about how to reduce their personal carbon footprint through activities like walking instead of driving or eating more fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans instead of meat.

Offset anything

Now that you know how to offset your family’s carbon footprint, you might also be interested in how to offset your company’s carbon footprint. I’ve also written about how I made EarthyB.com a carbon-neutral website with Wren.

No matter where you are in your family’s journey toward becoming more environmentally conscious, carbon offsets can be a simple and cost-effective way to reduce your impact.

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