Household Energy Use And Carbon Footprint Is Variable Across The United States

Sep 24, 2020

Variability of household energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for contiguous 48 states in the US and Washington DC. Dark green represents lowest rates per square foot and dark red represents highest rates per square foot of building space.
Credit Benjamin Goldstein / PNAS.org

Utahns are pretty familiar with how vehicle emissions can impact air quality and the climate. But what about household emissions?   

“One of the main findings is that bigger households cause larger carbon footprints," said Benjamin Goldstein a post-doctoral research fellow from the University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainabilty.

Goldstein recently finished a study on the drivers of carbon footprints of household energy use across the United states.

Goldstein said the main findings seem intuitive but previously have not been documented across such a large sample. The study found that household energy use and emissions vary with climate, fuel source, building density and age of construction. So northeastern states ranked highest in both categories.

Utah performed well in this study, ranking 35th for energy used and 47th in greenhouse gas emissions based on household size, meaning Utah emits less greenhouse gas than expected in the urban residential sector.

The amount of US household energy use is not small – it makes up 20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the US and would be considered the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. In Utah, the residential energy sector is ~ 21% of the energy consumption.

“The most important takeaway is that you can’t just sit back and wait for the background infrastructure to decarbonize – decarbonizing electricity is not a silver bullet," Goldstein said. "We need to have a multi-pronged, multi-sectoral and multi-scalar approach to decarbonization of the residential sector.”  

The research emerged from a broader study of environmental footprints said Goldstein.

“We were actually interested in trying to highlight how our diets in cities influence the environment and show it is a significant component of our personal environmental footprint," he said. 

And according to Goldstein, thinking about your personal carbon footprint goes beyond where we work and play. It also includes our consumption – food, clothing and durable goods that may have a global supply chain. 

“Reducing our carbon footprint isn’t necessarily just about having energy efficient homes or an electric car," he said. "We need to really think holistically across all dimensions of our lifestyle.”