It is a fact that Germany releases much less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per capita than the United States. This is due to a mixture of factors that include large investments in renewable energy and an overall environmental consciousness among German citizens.

This got me thinking: Has moving to Germany helped my carbon footprint to shrink?

Carbon footprint in Germany vs. USA

First, let’s look at some numbers:
Tons of CO₂ Produced Per Capita in 1990
USA: 19
Germany: 15.2

Tons of CO₂ Produced Per Capita in 2010
USA: 19
Germany: 12.3
Information received from Carbon Footprint of Nations.

This means Germany has actually improved its carbon emissions by nearly 3 tons since 1990. The United States’ carbon footprint per capita actually spiked to 21 tons in 2000, which they did recover from. When you look at the big picture, however, it is basically like they have never made any progress at all.

So, I was curious to see how my carbon footprint improved since I moved to Germany. Using several carbon footprint calculators in order to get the most accurate result possible, I first calculated my carbon footprint for the last six months while I was living and working in Illinois from January 2013 to July 2013:

Ecological Footprint: 20.5 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Global Footprint Network: 25.3 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Stanford: 17.2

Average = 21.0 metric tons of COe

Major contributing factors:
  • During this time, I was driving 60 miles round trip each day for work = 3,900 miles over six months
  • I lived in a 3-bedroom house
  • Only about 11% of the energy produced in the U.S. comes from renewable sources
Next, I calculated my carbon footprint for my last six months in Germany, which would be from November 2015 to May 2016.

Ecological Footprint: 13.7 tons of CO₂ eq/year

Global Footprint Network: 9 tons of CO₂ eq/year

Stanford: 6.6 tons of CO2 eq/year

Total: 9.8 metric tons of COe

Major contributing factors:

  • I live in a 1 bedroom apartment
  • Marco and I are very conscious about electricity use and only use about 25 kWh per week
  • I travel most often by foot, otherwise by city bus (we only drive our car max. 1x/week)
  • Approximately 40% of our electricity comes from renewable sources (and that is the cheapest, basic electricity plan available)
There are many factors that I could not take into account, which is why my carbon footprint is so much lower than the average. However, we can still assume that the difference between these two numbers is fairly accurate.

I am now producing 11.2 fewer tons of CO₂/yr than I was 3 years ago.

As a side note, I do realize that because I make a transatlantic flight approximately once per year, my carbon footprint is actually much higher than each of these numbers indicate. Since I just wanted to focus on the impact of my day-to-day life in each of these countries, I did not take my yearly flights into account.

For those that have moved to another country: how do you think your carbon footprint has changed?