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Climate Crisis

How Our CO2 Journey Began

After I had offset the CO2 emissions of our family summer vacation, I also wanted to better understand what more we could do personally to cut our emissions. I found all sorts of resources on the web, but they seemed either much too broad or much too narrow in focus.

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Instead, I was looking for a concise, quantitative, prioritized list of key CO2 emission sources that I could concentrate on. I was so intrigued by this idea I even drafted a dummy version (see screenshot below):

My initial dummy list of personal levers to reduce my personal CO2 footprint

A number of specialized NGOs I contacted with this dummy version really liked the concept, but did not have anything ready to share. So I ended up researching the facts myself during one internal meeting that was particularly boring.

Turns out there is an incredible amount of well-researched data on CO2 emissions available out there at your fingertips! However, you really have to be a data-savvy expert to make sense of it! So I invested a few hours to research the most important facts and compiled them in a simple spreadsheet. Then I had an enthusiastic colleague (Carsten) help me out triple checking the facts and expanding the list.

That initial analysis contained quite a few surprises for me personally: For example, I had substantially under-estimated the CO2 impact of switching to a vegetarian diet! And I was very surprised to learn that avoiding plastic bags had basically zero impact on my CO2 emissions.

I started wondering if my fellow citizens had the same misconceptions on what were the key levers to cut personal CO2 emissions. Since easy-to-use insights were inaccessible and most lists lacked numbers, it seemed only natural that everyone would be just as clueless as myself.

Five surveys (with a total of more than 6,000 respondents in four countries) later, we were able to confirm that hypothesis! Our most striking finding: People across the world believe that avoiding plastic bags is actually by far the most important personal lever to cut CO2 emissions.

When we published those findings in a simple blog post on LinkedIn, things got really wild: the post generated 10x more views than my next best post and its core graph gathered thousands of likes on Reddit within a few hours. Within a few days, the story got picked up by multiple national media outlets as well as a few international ones like Wired UK or Treehugger.

Selected press coverage of our study results by Germany’s largest and most prestigious newspapers and magazines

The most beautiful and fun implementation of our findings was done by Handelsblatt, Germany’s leading business daily: Not only did they publish our insights in their “graph of the day” category covering two full pages, but they also created an animated version here.

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