News & Events

Environmental Health 101: your carbon footprint

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February 2009 Edition

By Evelyn Bain, M Ed, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director/Coordinator, Health & Safety

In the fall of 2008, members of the MNA’s Congress on Health and Safety decided to devote a small corner of the health and safety page in the each edition of the Massachusetts Nurse to the issues of environmental health and global warming. Related to this, I was invited to represent the MNA at a meeting in Oracle, Az. that was coordinated by the University of Maryland, Health Care Without Harm and the American Nursing Association. The goal of the meeting was to develop a national agenda for nurses to address environmental health issues. And from there the MNA”s Congress was able to identify its own starting point on how to begin addressing this issue—with an “Environmental Health 101” of sorts.

According to , your “carbon footprint” is the direct effect your actions and lifestyle have on the environment in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

The biggest contributors to your footprint are probably your travel needs and your electricity demands at home. But it is important to note that all your actions have an effect on the environment, including your diet and the clothes you wear.

What’s your footprint?

After hearing so much about carbon footprints—and about how Americans contribute much more than those living in other countries— I decided to look into the size of my own carbon footprint. To calculate its size I used the calculator at and, in the end, I was not surprised but a bit dismayed to learn that my own carbon footprint for 2008 was 16.08 tons. The average American contributes 20.4 tons, and the average world personal contribution is 4 tons. The worldwide target goal is 2 tons, a size that is recommended because it would effectively reduce global warming. Obviously we have a very long way to go. offers numerous suggestions on how to improve the size of your footprint. A few of the best—and easiest—include:

  • Signing up with a green energy supplier who will supply electricity from renewable sources (e.g. wind and hydroelectric power). This will reduce your carbon footprint contribution from electricity to zero.
  • Turn down the water heating setting. Just two degrees will result in a significant improvement.
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
  • Unplug your mobile phone as soon as it has finished charging
  • Go for a run rather than drive to the gym
  • Do your weekly shopping in a single trip

According to the calculator, making these changes will start to reduce your contribution to global warming immediately. These changes will cost you no money and will in fact save you money.