Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Confronting Climate Change: Big environmental footprints: 21 percent of homes account for 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions

October 28, 2013

Greenhouse gas
Just 21 percent of homes produce 50 percent of a town’s greenhouse gas emissions, a new study has found.


Energy conservation in a small number of households could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists are reporting. Their study, which measured differences in energy demands at the household level, appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Today’s solution addresses energy conservation in a small number of households. This could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Dominik Saner, Ph.D., Stefanie Hellweg, Ph.D., and colleagues point out that the energy people use to power their homes and to satisfy their mobility needs accounts for more than 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas involved in global climate change. To cope with that problem, policymakers and environmentalists have focused largely on the supply side — for instance, electric power plants.

Saner and Hellweg’s team decided to take a close look at the other end of the equation — how energy consumption for housing and land-based mobility at the household level impacts greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is Hellweg, who is with ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and is the principal investigator on the paper:

“We looked at more than 3,000 households in a Swiss town and found that only 20 percent of these homes accounted for almost 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest factors contributing to a few families having a disproportionately large environmental footprint were long commutes in private vehicles and large living spaces, which require energy for heating, lighting and cooling.”

If emissions from this small number of homes could be halved, the total emissions of the community would be reduced by 25 percent.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at Today’s podcast was written and narrated by Christine Suh at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Stefanie Hellweg, Ph. D.
Stefanie Hellweg, Ph. D., ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology