Co-op Sustainability – By the Numbers

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By: Jordan Mann – BHC co-op alum and engineer.

As a co-op resident and general energy nerd, I decided to do a brief study of the per capita energy consumption of co-op residents vs. the typical Coloradan consumer. I collected data from all of the co-ops I know about in town and charted their electricity, natural gas and water consumption. I believe that some of our energy savings came from the more efficient use of square footage. Heating a 3,000 square foot home will use a similar amount of gas whether there is 1 person or 10 people living there. I had expected that other resource use such as electricity and water consumption would correlate more directly with the number of occupants. What I found was that even per capita electricity and water usage are significantly lower in cooperatives. Every co-op that I know of, in Boulder, has strong environmental commitments and this type of living arrangement allows residents to live in way that is consistent with their values. We make serious efforts to conserve electricity, water and gas while still maintaining a high quality of comfort and amenity. I hope that you find the following analysis interesting and informative. If you have any additional questions at all please feel free to reach out to me.

Electricity Consumption

Below is a graph showing the per-capita annual electricity consumption in kWh for a number of local co-ops as well as the Colorado average. The chart also shows the contribution from solar on the two co-ops that have solar energy production.

On average, co-opers use about 1/4 the amount of electricity as an average consumer in Colorado. If all of us in Boulder used the same amount of energy per person as the co-op crowd, we would prevent over 125,000 tons of CO2 from going into the atmosphere every year. Given Boulder’s current electricity generation mix where 56% of our electricity comes from coal, the amount of coal that we would prevent from being burned could fill a coal train 5 miles long, about the length of the Boulder creek path. On a per capita basis in the context of household energy use, the housing co-ops are close to meeting the city of Boulder’s recently adopted climate commitment for 2050 (an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions).  Furthermore we’ve done it without changing our electricity supply, and in many cases without having the ability to significantly invest in the buildings we occupy.  These emissions reductions have come not with significant financial costs, but with enormous, immediate, per capita savings.

Natural Gas Consumption

The co-ops also use significantly less natural gas than your average Colorado resident. The average co-oper uses about 1/3 as much natural gas as a typical Colorado resident.

Water Consumption

Water consumption is another area where co-opers are using their resources efficiently. The average co-oper uses about 1/3 the amount of water compared to an average Coloradan. The amount we save in just in these 6 Boulder co-ops is about 3 Olympic sized swimming pools full of water every year.

I know that Boulder Council and staff have ambitious goals for reducing the city’s carbon footprint and contributing to sustaining a healthy local environment. Residential home energy consumption accounts for a significant part of that overall footprint. Not everyone is going to be willing to change their living situation to conserve resources.  Some people want larger homes and more privacy.  Others may prefer inefficient technologies like incandescent light bulbs. Many do not have access to financing mechanisms allowing them to make upfront investments in energy efficiency. In the case of rental housing, there are often difficult-to-address split incentives (in which the landlord purchases the efficiency upgrades but the tenant saves all of the money on the electric bill). However, when people do wish to reduce their resource use through lifestyle changes that are also highly cost effective and thus accessible to people throughout the entire spectrum of incomes, we believe it is grossly inconsistent with the city’s stated environmental values — values which most co-opers in Boulder emphatically share — to prevent them from doing so legally.

Kind regards,

Jordan Mann

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