We’re all aware that cars emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the more we drive, the more pollution we create. For most of us, the bulk of our driving involves commuting to and from work. Day in and day out, month after month and year after year, driving back and forth from work, our carbon footprint is always growing and damaging the environment.

It’s easy to forget about carbon emissions and put them out of sight and out of mind, but the reality is the cost of emitting greenhouse gases on our commutes is quite significant. But just how much damage are we doing on our commutes? Do our individual choices really matter?

To help make this abstract concept a little more tangible, we did the math more nearly 100 US cities, looking at average commute distances for people working in those areas. The average American will emit 70 metric tons (or over 154,000 pounds) of C02 from their vehicle during their lifetime just driving to and from work.

Using the interactive map below, you can see how many pounds of CO2 your vehicle will emit in your lifetime on your daily work commute. Further down, you can learn more about our methodology.

Note: If you’re on mobile, flip your phone horizontally for the best viewing experience. 


The Map

This map shows CO2 emissions by city. Larger red dots show greater CO2 emissions while smaller blue dots show fewer CO2 emissions.



So, how did we calculate the greenhouse gas emissions the average commuter will create over their lifetime?

For the purposes of this study, we assumed the average person starts full-time work at 18 (some people start earlier, others a bit later). We also know the average retirement age is 63 in the United States.

That’s 45 years of working a full-time job.

We then worked from the assumption that most people work about 250 days per year, which accounts for 2 weeks of annual vacation and time off.

That’s 11,250 days of working/commuting over a career.

According to the EPA, the average vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile. Using data from the US Census Bureau on average daily roundtrip commute distances, we were then able to calculate the average emissions for commuters over the course of their working lives.


How to Use the Map

The above map is interactive and simple to use. If you want to see commute times in your area, simply zoom into your city and click on the nearest colored dot on the map. A box will pop up with a number of different data points you can scroll through.

Mobile users may find the map is easier to use if you flip your device to display horizontally.