Practical ways to reduce your carbon footprint
Growing concern towards the climate crisis is seeing a surge in demand for ways in which individuals, communities, businesses and entire countries can and must reduce their impact on the environment. As the human consumption of energy increases, extreme weather events are getting more frequent and home energy costs are soaring.
The biggest drivers of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are industries. In fact, the idea itself of individual responsibility was brought forward by the oil giant, BP, which popularised the term "carbon footprint" at the beginning of the century.
It is certainly misleading to believe that only our individual actions will suffice in combating climate change - but it's also a good place to start in your climate action journey. Making simple changes to our lifestyle can help us gain more knowledge on the topic and more confidence when advocating for wider spectrum solutions, such as those that involve pressuring our governments into implementing better policies.
In this article, let's focus on the bottom of this pyramid (i.e. us, the individuals) and let's have a look at ways to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
What's the definition of carbon footprint?
Carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere as a result of our activities and lifestyles. Simply put, calculating your carbon footprint helps you put a number to identify the impact of the combined actions and activities that make up your life. The larger your footprint, the heavier your impact on the overall environment.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. The most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation. However, carbon emissions from our daily activities and lifestyle choices also contribute to the problem - from the simplest of things (such as what you ate for breakfast whilst reading our blog) to seemingly bigger choices (such as taking multiple flights per year).
Every single action is important to achieving big results in all aspects of life, so the same goes when trying to impact less on our environment!
How can we reduce our carbon footprint? Here are 5 tips to do so
Fortunately, there are many simple ways that individuals can reduce their personal carbon footprint and help protect the planet. Here are 5 ways you can lower your carbon footprint:
1. Eat Less Meat and Choose Sustainable Food
The food we eat and the way it is produced can have a significant impact on our carbon footprint. To reduce emissions associated with agriculture and transporting food, consider reducing meat consumption and choosing locally-sourced and seasonal food. Alongside this, choosing organic foods can help reduce greenhouse gasses associated with the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
While not all of us might be ready to stick to a vegan diet and lifestyle, a study published in Nature this year shows unassailable evidence that reducing our meat consumption positively impacts our environment: more precisely, just reducing by one-fifth the amount of beef we consume can halve deforestation. Eating less red meat could easily be the single most impactful lifestyle change that you could introduce in your life - and the many meat alternative products sprouting in the market are something to definitely keep an eye on. The article warns that this evidence should not by itself be seen as a silver bullet - it will take more diversified efforts to contrast the climate crisis. But given the striking negative impacts of the beef farming industry, namely huge methane emissions and deforestation, this information certainly needs to reach all of us.
2. Reduce Energy Consumption at Home
The current energy crisis makes energy usage a fairly difficult topic to approach, and rightfully so. Nonetheless, if you have the possibility to do so, one of the most efficient ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of energy you use in your home. This can be achieved by using energy-efficient appliances, such as LED or incandescent light bulbs and Energy Star-certified refrigerators, and turning off lights and electronics like air conditioning units when not in use. These changes can also help you slim your energy bills by becoming more energy efficient and using less energy overall and thus save gas and money. Additionally, you can reduce your carbon footprint by properly sealing your home and adding insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.
Lastly, if you are in the position to consider this, switching to a green energy provider comes with a number of benefits. Renewable energy sources are less harmful and produce no GHG from fossil fuels, but you also improve air quality for everyone and help to allow your country to have less dependency on imported fuels.
3. Choose Sustainable Transportation
Transportation is another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Active transportation, which includes walking and cycling, benefits our health and the environment, though we understand this might not be the best option for everyone depending on our health and the type of commute that awaits us each day.
Other viable options that could save money on bills, include public transport or carpooling instead of driving alone. If you must drive, and you benefit from the possibility to freely choose which car you use, choose a fuel-efficient car and drive at a steady pace to maximize fuel efficiency or alternatively invest in an electric vehicle. It is of course worth noting that electric cars take quite a high mileage to offset the emissions made in their production and eventual disposal of their batteries, so do keep them for as long as you can. Nonetheless, whenever possible, public transportation should be preferred - when considering the average carbon footprint in the UK, each 10km travelled by public transport when compared with driving can save up to 1kg of carbon emissions. In a short time, we can significantly lower our personal carbon footprint and our environmental impact!
4. Reduce Water Usage
Water usage is another important factor in reducing your carbon footprint. Just consider that an average long hot shower uses roughly 15L of water per minute and emits ~0.2 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per minute - which is equivalent in energy usage to several hundred light bulbs being on simultaneously! By taking shorter showers, fixing leaks, and using drought-resistant plants in our landscaping, we can reduce the amount of water we use. Additionally, we can reduce the energy required to treat and distribute water by using low-flow toilets, showerheads, and faucets.
5. Reduce Waste
Waste reduction is another crucial aspect of reducing your carbon footprint. By recycling, composting, and reducing the amount of packaging you consume, you can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Landfills are a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, so reducing the amount of waste you generate can have a big impact on your carbon footprint and how much carbon dioxide emissions your household produces.
Let's add a sixth point to the list
Many times when reading similar articles about carbon footprints and reducing emissions, I had an off-feeling - does it all sound overly simplified? Sometimes, especially in our current economic crisis, lists of simple-to-achieve steps sound like they are missing an important point, and that is that not all of us have the means and resources to go through all these points easily. Perhaps, to overcome these difficulties, what we need is to shift our view from the individuals to the community.
6. Nurture your community
Building a support network, whether in your neighbourhood or friends circle, is likely to drive the most change. You can share knowledge and skills, and help each other in becoming more aware of the lifestyle changes you can make, like;
adopting the 3 r's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and buy less stuff,
sharing items, so you don't need to buy products you'll likely use only a few times,
avoid fast fashion and reduce your use of electronic devices
joining a community garden to grow your local produce,
planting pollinator flowers,
making your own fertiliser by composting your food waste,
eating local; find your nearest butchers and bakers, and you'll also reduce plastic waste by bringing a reusable container!
starting a community solar panels project,
taking turns to carpool and reducing the need for a car per person; saving some money and having a fun ride,
and what about the workplace? Is there a sustainability policy in place there you could support? Or could you lead one?
Chances are you can tick more boxes and achieve a better carbon footprint within a group of active and like-minded people than on your own! Communities have limitless potential, especially when the enormity of the scale of climate change can make us feel small and powerless.
In conclusion, reducing your carbon footprint is an important step in protecting the planet and mitigating the impacts of climate change. By making simple changes in your daily habits, lifestyle choices and energy use, you can have a significant impact and make a surprisingly big difference. The best thing you can do is start from yourself and your personal impact, and branch off to your community - let's act and inspire others to reduce their carbon footprint and stop climate change!