Calculating Your Carbon Footprint Just Got Easier

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Burning gasoline to get to work, run errands, and to get away on weekends is not only damaging to the wallet, it’s damaging to the atmosphere.

One of the biggest contributors to the average American’s carbon footprint is driving a car. That’s why the U.S. federal government recently redesigned the fuel economy window stickers for new vehicles. The program, aimed at educating consumers about the car or truck’s lifetime fuel consumption and pollution output, will start with model year 2013.

Fuel economy stickers haven’t had a sweeping design overhaul in nearly two decades. The new look, in part, represents the dramatic change in the type of inventory available on car lots. Different kinds of cars, like conventional automobiles, hybrids, plug-ins, and all electric vehicles will have different information displayed on their stickers.

Hybrids and electric car stickers, for example, will include information like charging times and how many miles can be driven on one charge. Vehicles with gas engines will show the annual operation cost when gas is $3.70 and the vehicle is driven 15,000 miles. The price of gas will be updated every year to stay current.

Most consumers are used to seeing the familiar highway and city mileage per gallon, but the new sticker will also include a figure that reflects how much fuel is required to travel one hundred miles. By providing new car shoppers with all of this additional information the U.S. Environmental Agency, who runs the fuel economy sticker program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation, hopes consumers will make better-informed purchases.

In addition to allowing consumers to be well informed on the costs associated with the fuel economy of a new purchase, the new stickers will also help drivers anticipate their carbon footprint. Each sticker will include a greenhouse gas rating, which will allow buyers to compare new cars against one another and determine how much carbon dioxide they will produce over their lifetime. The sticker also includes a smog rating for emissions such as nitrogen oxide and particulates.

While the new stickers may go a long way at helping consumers make educated decisions about what they choose to drive, the way the system is devised falls short of calculating the amount of pollution and greenhouse gas created at electric power generation plants for plug-in cars. To truly get a full accounting of an electric car’s impact a consumer would have to do a little bit more investigation and find out where their electricity comes from and what sort of fuel is used. Then, combined with the information on the sticker, they should be able to figure out how much emissions their vehicle generates.

The new sticker system is generally viewed as an improvement of the more simplistic miles-per-gallon rating. But many environmentalists and climate change advocates were lobbying for a different type of sticker that would have given each new vehicle a letter grade from A to D on how it compared to other cars and trucks in terms of fuel economy and noxious emissions. After much debate, the letter grade system, which was viewed as misleading by the auto industry, was not adopted.

In the coming years clean air advocates hope that the federal government will pass legislation that makes the shrinking of driver’s carbon footprint mandatory by passing stronger mileage standards. By 2017 auto industry watchdogs hope that new cars will be required to average 60 miles to the gallon.

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