Monday, January 9, 2012

Riot results: cutting consumption by 50 - 85%


The Riot 4 Austerity 90% Emissions Reduction Project challenges participants to cut their negative environmental impact in seven different categories: transportation energy, electricity, other fuels (i.e. natural gas for heating), water, garbage, food, and consumer goods.

As individuals, we may not have "much" impact, but the point is to model these positive changes for others, share results and tips, and work together to make the changes needed for society to follow. Hopefully, the changes each family makes will not only result in less environmental harm but monetary savings, greater life satisfaction, and improved health through more exercise and better food. Cutting consumption is not only good for the environment, but also helps prepare us for a world of declining energy and resource availability.

I should first state that I do not feel deprived of anything that I or my family want or need. We maintain a regular middle-class urban/suburban 2000 square-foot household with two parents, one child and a small business on-site, and everything looks rather... normal. My point is this: we use 50 - 85% less in most of the seven categories, without much of what I would consider a sacrifice. It really isn't "austerity" at the level at which we have been participating.

There are various rules and regulations (all voluntary, of course) for playing the Riot game. I put together a handy spreadsheet to compare our usage to the average American household (per Riot and other sources of statistics). The specific data are below, and feel free to do fact-checking on the averages, but first let's look at an overview of how we did in the seven categories.

Water: Our water use in 2011 was much higher than in prior years due to drought and heatwave conditions (63 days over 100 degrees last summer), but at 68% less than the American average, and growing a garden in a year of drought, I would call this a success. (Note: I used the average American consumption reported by the American Water Works Association for comparison).

Energy: Although we used only 28% less electricity than average, our house is completely electric. When we add in our (lack of) natural gas usage, our total energy use is 80% less than average. Also, we are on OG&E windpower.

Gasoline: If we count our 4-year old as a person who consumes gasoline, I estimate that our household use is 59% less than average. Since *most* of the trips I have to take are specifically for his benefit, and involve driving many miles (to grandmothers every week for childcare so I can work part-time), this seems fair. We also live in Oklahoma City, which incidentally ranks 48 out of 50 cities in the national "Walkability Score". I wish our family did better than a 59% reduction, but I'm not willing to sacrifice more trips for both economic and family reasons. Perhaps when we replace our 13-year old Jetta with a Prius or other more efficient car we can improve in this area.

Garbage: We use about one trash bag per week, weighing in at 4.5 pounds (I rounded up to 5 pounds to account for weeks that are greater than average). After adding in the occasional "big bulky" item we place on the curb, our garbage disposal is about 85% less than average. Frankly, it's hard for me to believe that the average American household disposes an average of 40 pounds of garbage per week. But that's what Riot statistics report.

Food: We did not measure food, as the rules for the Riot are complicated and hard for me to track. However, I do buy local eggs and grass-fed meat directly from a local farmer, visit the Farmer's market weekly, grow a lot of food in our garden, and buy organic most of the time. We also eat meat an average of only once per week (a leftover from my vegetarian cooking days).

Consumer Goods: Another one we did not track. Generally, we buy used clothes, cars, toys, books, and furniture and furnishings, get most of our books from the library, give service gifts when possible, and purchase online music rather than hard-copy. However, we have purchased several electronics gadgets over the last few years, replaced our old carpet with wood floors, purchased a (heavy) energy-efficient fireplace insert and a steel tornado shelter, and bought assorted other consumer goods. I'm not sure I'd call this category "successful."

Summary: The details are available for your leisurely perusal below, but overall I'd have to say that I feel satisfied with our Riot participation. We came close to the 90% figure in several areas. We invested money over the last six years to improve our energy efficiency, and our investment is now being repaid every year. We save quite a bit of money - I believe that the money we spend on quality food reflects in our lack of medical bills (although good food is only one aspect of health), and the money we invested in our Prius and weatherization saves us money on gas and electricity. And all these savings were achieved without feeling deprived.

As I mentioned earlier, there are other steps that we could take to cut consumption even further. We could turn the thermostat lower than 66 degrees / higher than 78 degrees, refuse to take trips to see family, abstain from participating in community events, quit buying fresh fruit that is not in-season, and other sacrifices that we are not currently willing to make. If we had a convenient bus system or sidewalks in our neighborhood, we could walk, bike and bus more. If we had more land, or if I plowed the front yard, we could grow more food. And if I were tougher, I'd hang laundry outside in the dead of winter.

Still, for now, we'll keep looking for the little ways to consume less, save more and enjoy living a little lighter. In the meantime, I'll share some tips on how we cut our consumption (and ask for your insights as well) in upcoming blog posts.

Spreadsheet analysis (average statistics are from Riot 4 Austerity and American Water Works Association):

Water
Average American household use 127,400 gallons
Patton use (2011) 41,000 gallons
Water saved compared to average: 86,400 gallons
Water saved as percentage of average 68% less than average
Electricity
Average American household electrical use 11,000 kwh
Patton use (2011) 7892 kwh
kwh saved compared to average 3,108 kwh
kwh saved as percentage of average 28% less than average
Natural Gas
Average American household natural gas use 1000 therms
Patton use (2011) 0 therms
Saved 1000 therms
As a percentage 100% less than average
Total Household Energy use (with therms converted to kwh at onlineconversion.com)
Average American household energy use 40300 kwh
Patton use 7892 kwh
Energy saved compared to average 32408 kwh
Energy saved as percentage of average 80% less household energy than average
Gasoline use*
500 gallons per person per year average 1500 gallons
Patton use est. only 616 gallons
Gas saved compared to average 884
Gas saved as percentage 59% less gas use than average
Garbage disposal
Avg: 40 pounds per household per week 2080 pounds
Patton use 5 lbs weekly 260 pounds
Additional disposal on big trash day 50 pounds
Total 310
Garbage saved compared to average 1770
Garbage saved as a percentage 85% less garbage use than average




9 comments:

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Apologies for the strange formatting of this post!

Wendy said...

Awesome numbers! We didn't officially join the Riot, but we've been tracking our numbers, and it's thrilling to see how close to 10% we've gotten in most areas.

Garbage was the best for us, and for our household of five, we throw out one bag per week at about 4lbs of garbage (some weeks we don't throw out anything :). I think that puts us at around 5% for that category.

In the other areas, we're right around 25% of average. Like you, we're always looking for ways to cut.

knutty knitter said...

Its a bit of a problem for those of us living elsewhere in some categories as our lifestyles are so different. I worked out that we were about where you are except in transport because we have good sidewalks and public transport etc. We also have a very temperate climate so I can't really take much credit for using way less fuel (none at all actually) and only a little electricity to heat things in winter.

Still interesting to try though

viv in nz

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Wendy and Viv - great job! Thanks for sharing your results. It's kind of fun to see what can be done with a little effort and attention.

eatclosetohome said...

The first year we tracked, we were at 61% of US ave carbon emissions; last year we were down to 37%, if you take out required work travel.

Things will really be up in the air if we are able to buy the passive solar home we have in mind. The house itself should use a lot less energy, but it's further from work and closer to fun activities. But we will be able to bike to the market - so it's hard to estimate!

Emily

Michael Dawson said...

"I wish our family did better than a 59% reduction, but I'm not willing to sacrifice more trips for both economic and family reasons."

There's the fly in this ointment. Our towns are built to compel automobile ownership and use. Hence, personal gestures like "Riot" are doomed, unless and until we start a movement to radically rebuild our cities and infrastructues.

SharleneT said...

I don't do numbers, but have really reduced consumption in the past few years -- not sure how much of that can be attributed to old age and how much to caring about the planet (which would give me higher points), but solar cooking has definitely reduced my energy consumption. I use my two meeting days a week to include any purchasing, delivery, etc., and don't drive on the other days. My church is just two blocks away, which makes it very convenient. So good to see a post from you, btw. Have missed them. Come visit when you can.

emmer said...

i'm wondering where you got your comparason stats? i see where the water numbers come from, but how about the nat gas, electric, trash and water? regional? natl?

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi Emmer - the statistics are from the Riot 4 Austerity challenge (except for the water). The link is provided toward the top; here it is:
http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-08-02/time-riot

They don't break them down to regional, which would be helpful - I guess these are a national American average.