Many want to reduce their carbon footprint but don’t know where to start.
Here are nine sustainable changes you can make to be more eco-friendly:
- Reduce energy usage.
- Find alternatives to driving when travelling.
- Transition to a plant-based diet.
- Reduce food waste.
- Use eco-friendly products.
- Reduce water usage.
- Switch to renewable energy.
- Use reusable bags and containers.
- Plant trees or support reforestation projects.
These small changes can create a big impact when pursuing a sustainable lifestyle. Before we go into each step in detail, let’s step back and clarify some terms.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases an individual, organisation, or activity produces. This includes carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
Why should we reduce our average carbon footprint?
Everything we do in our daily lives contributes to our carbon footprint. This includes how we travel, eat, and use energy in our homes and workplaces. Reducing our carbon footprint can slow the pace of climate change and protect the environment.
Reducing our carbon footprint can also have economic benefits. For instance, saving money on energy bills or creating jobs in the clean energy sector. It can also improve our health by reducing air pollution and promoting active transportation.
How can I reduce my carbon footprint while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle?
Reducing your carbon footprint can be done with simple changes in daily habits. These could be using public transportation or biking instead of driving. Or changing eating habits and consuming less meat and dairy products. Or easy tasks like turning off lights and electronics when not in use.
Let’s explore the different methods in more detail.
Nine steps to reducing your environmental footprint
1. Reduce energy consumption
Lowering energy usage is a powerful tool in the battle against climate change and carbon emissions. And the best part of it is that it can save you money. Consider making minor changes to make your home more energy-efficient.
Energy efficient lighting makes a huge difference
- Switching to LED lighting is a great way to save energy at home. LEDs last much longer than traditional light bulbs. They use less electricity, emit less heat, and must be replaced less often. Better for your pocket and the planet!
- Consider solar-powered lights for larger areas like living rooms or kitchens. These are becoming increasingly popular due to their low cost and eco-friendly benefits.
- Better still, make use of natural light. Opening curtains and blinds reduce the need for artificial lighting and save energy.
Looking after your appliances is also essential
- Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. This simple action can help diminish wasted energy, thus decreasing emissions from power stations. Make sure to unplug electronics when they’re not being used as well. Even if turned off, they still draw electricity from the wall socket.
- When it's time to buy replacements, seek out energy-efficient appliances. For example, US consumers should buy appliances with an Energy Star rating. A scheme with the same name exists in Europe to monitor office equipment like computers.
Lastly, consider how you manage the temperature in your home
- You should adjust your thermostat accordingly during different seasons. A programmable thermostat would allow you to set your home's heating (or cooling) to adjust to your schedule. This prevents unnecessary usage (or bills!)
- On the topic of heating, consider hanging your clothes on a clothesline or rack instead of a tumble dryer.
- Poor insulation is one of the leading causes of wasted energy in homes because it prevents air from staying inside. Add extra insulation in attics or crawl spaces to keep temperatures consistent and reduce heating/cooling costs.
- Lastly, ensure all air leaks around windows and doors are correctly sealed. This prevents hot or cold air from escaping and keeps your home comfortable without overworking heating or cooling systems.
- Consider replacing old windows or doors with newer models equipped with double-paned glass (for added insulation) or weatherstripping along edges (to prevent drafts).
Key Takeaway: We can all help lower emissions and combat climate change by making simple changes. For example, by turning off devices when not in use and using energy efficient appliances.
2. Use public transport, carpools or biking
Using public transport, carpools or biking can reduce your carbon footprint, save money and mitigate climate change.
Alternative transport choices can reduce the number of emissions from cars on the road. This helps keep our air cleaner and reduces global warming.
Public transport alleviates traffic congestion by decreasing the number of vehicles on the road. In addition, it offers a significant environmental benefit by reducing air pollution caused by idling engines in traffic queues.
As public transport vehicles typically use cleaner energy sources, they emit fewer pollutants into the atmosphere, resulting in a marked improvement in air quality.
Carpooling is another great way to reduce your environmental impact while still getting around quickly and conveniently without taking multiple buses or riding a bike everywhere.
When two people share a commute, they reduce fuel consumption and related emissions. Plus, it's cheaper since each person only pays half of what they would typically pay alone. Ensure that everyone involved knows their role in advance (i.e., who will drive), so there are no surprises during your trip together.
Riding a bicycle is an environmentally friendly form of travel. It's free, good exercise, and faster than walking. It also doesn't require fuel, so no emissions are released into the atmosphere.
Research from Oxford University found that commuters who cycled daily have 84% lower emissions than car drivers.
Plus, it’s easy to store, making it perfect for city living with limited space. Local cycling clubs can be a great starting point for those new to biking. They often provide beginner classes or bike rental programs.
By opting for public transit, carpooling or cycling over driving solo, you can help the environment and shrink your carbon footprint.
Key Takeaway: Taking public transit, carpooling or cycling instead of driving a vehicle effectively reduces emissions and saves cash.
These alternative forms of transport help keep the air cleaner by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars on the road and alleviating traffic congestion in cities.
3. Transition to a plant-based diet
The Economist suggests that going vegan for two-thirds of meals could cut food-related carbon emissions by 60%.
Opting for a plant-based diet can curtail emissions by lessening the energy needed to produce food and by minimising the release of methane and nitrous oxide from livestock farming that contribute to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
According to World in Data, almost half of the habitable land is used for agriculture. Moreover, three-quarters of this are used for livestock, meat and dairy. Yet, these three items only provide 18% of calories and 37% of protein globally.
Agricultural land-use change has led to deforestation, clearing forests for cattle ranches and intensive soy plantations.
46% of habitable land use is taken by agriculture (Source: World in Data)
The shift towards a plant-based diet can be straightforward and achievable
You can start by incorporating more vegetarian dishes into your meal plans.
- This can be a gradual process. Slowly replace meat with vegetarian alternatives such as beans, lentils, tofu, seitan, or tempeh.
- If you are up for a challenge, you can also explore vegan recipes. Once you are comfortable cooking vegetarian meals, moving on to vegan recipes will be effortless.
The food you purchase can also reduce your environmental impact.
- Shopping for groceries and focusing on locally sourced and organic products can have manifold benefits. This not only supports local farmers but also reduces your carbon footprint.
- Opting for seasonal produce is another area to consider. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are usually fresher and packed with more vitamins and minerals.
- By comparison, imported produce grown year-round in greenhouses is more energy intensive.
Lastly, do not overlook portion sizes when transitioning to a plant-based diet. Consuming smaller portions can reduce waste and prevent leftover food from rotting in the fridge after every meal.
By consuming a plant-based diet, you can decrease your ecological impact and further reduce food wastage, thereby safeguarding our planet's future.
Key Takeaway: Land used for meat, livestock, and dairy has an outsized effect on the climate. Going green can help and doesn't have to be complicated. Simply start by eating a plant-based diet and buying local, organic produce in season. Additionally, practice conscious portion control so that you don't waste food. It's an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.
4. Reduce food waste
Consider reusing or composting any leftover organic materials from meals. Organic scraps, such as veggie pieces, can be composted and used as fertiliser for plants or gardens. This helps keep food out of landfills, where it would produce methane during decomposition.
You can also reduce waste by being inventive with leftovers.
- Instead of throwing away extra vegetables from dinner, why not use them in soup the next day?
- Or make frittatas with leftover potatoes and eggs?
Often, wasted food is a result of buying too much in the first place. Try shopping more often and only buy what you need. Meal planning can help ensure you don't purchase unnecessary groceries.
Finally, donating excess edible goods is another way to reduce waste while helping others. Many local organisations and food banks accept donations such as canned goods and non-perishables. Just make sure all items are within their expiration date first.
Agriculture accounts for up to 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing food waste is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment.
Key Takeaway: Food waste is an issue that needs to be tackled to reduce emissions and save the environment. We can do our part by recycling, composting or donating edible goods; getting creative with leftovers; meal planning when shopping for groceries.
5. Use eco-friendly products and cut out single-use plastics
Eco-friendly products are made with materials or processes that have a lower environmental impact than traditional options.
Today, you can purchase a range of eco-friendly products. Some common examples include
- Reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones.
- LED light bulbs instead of incandescent.
- Biodegradable detergents.
- Stainless steel straws.
- Sustainable building materials such as recycled wood or stone countertops.
- Low VOC paints that contain fewer “Volatile Organic Compounds” (VOC) or VOC Solvents than traditional coatings.
The benefits of using eco-friendly products include
- Reduced water pollution.
- Less air pollution.
- Improved public health due to fewer toxins released into the environment.
- Decreased greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming.
- Furthermore, some of these products may be cost-effective in the long run due to their durability and lower energy requirements during production or usage.
Opting for DIY alternatives to commercial products is an excellent way to reduce one's environmental footprint. For instance:
- Instead of purchasing chemical cleaners at the store, why not whip up a batch of all-natural cleaning solutions with vinegar and baking soda?
- Or you could switch out disposable paper towels for cloth rags. They will last longer while also cutting down on waste going into landfills.
- And don't forget about homemade shampoo bars replacing bottled liquid shampoo.
- Creating a compost bin from scratch is another way to reduce your environmental footprint.
Looking to make your own DIY eco-friendly cleaning products? Check out this video from ‘My Green Closet’
Key Takeaway: We can all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint by choosing eco-friendly products and DIY alternatives. Every choice we make today can have a lasting impact, so let's opt for eco-friendly options and homemade solutions.
6. Reduce water usage
Water is a precious resource we must conserve and protect. As the global population rises, freshwater sources are becoming increasingly scarce. As such, it is essential to reduce our water usage to ensure its availability for future generations.
Freshwater resources have been steadily depleting for decades. Source: Our World in Data
Bathroom water usage
One way to reduce your water consumption is by taking shorter showers or baths. Cutting your shower time by three minutes can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per person daily.
Installing low-flow showerheads can also help reduce your household’s overall water use without sacrificing comfort or convenience.
Additionally, turning off the tap when brushing teeth or shaving can also reduce wasted cold water from everyday activities.
Avoid flushing items other than toilet paper down the lavatory to prevent squandering money. These materials won't dissolve quickly enough and may clog pipes leading to costly repairs later.
Water use in the rest of the home
You should also be mindful of how much you use appliances like washing machines and dishwashers that require large amounts of running hot water. Ensure all loads are full before starting these appliances. You can maximise their efficiency and minimise energy consumption and wastewater produced per load.
Use rain barrels for outdoor watering needs such as lawn care or gardening. This eliminates wasteful evaporation from hoses or sprinklers while providing plants with adequate moisture.
Key Takeaway: We can reduce our carbon footprint by being more efficient with water. Reducing water waste and repurposing rainwater can help. As does, being more mindful of water intensive appliances like washing machines. By doing so we'll save not only water but also money.
7. Switch to clean energy suppliers - or develop your own renewable power sources
Switching from fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to renewable energy sources can reduce emissions.
Thankfully, the price of green energy has decreased substantially in the past decade. This has a dual benefit.
- Lower prices increase adoption.
- Adoption leads to further innovation and cost reduction.
Electricity demand will grow primarily in developing nations. Making green energy affordable and more attractive than fossil fuels is critical to combating climate change.
Switching to sustainable sources could be as simple as moving to a green tariff with a specialist energy provider. Or generate your own by installing solar panels, heat pumps or wind turbines.
Renewable energy sources for the average household
Harnessing the sun's power, solar panels transform sunlight into electricity for residential use. Recently, solar panels have become more accessible due to their decreasing cost and the availability of various government incentives.
A heat pump transfers heat from the outside air or ground into your home, providing heating and cooling. This means it can be more efficient than traditional heating systems that rely on fossil fuels.
Consider a wind turbine if you are near strong winds and have space. They can produce more electricity than solar panels when conditions are optimal. However, turbines require more land space and may only be feasible for some households.
Another option is to install a micro-hydroelectric system on your property. This involves using a small turbine to generate hydroelectricity from a nearby stream or water source. To do this, you'll need to consult a professional to assess your site's potential and determine the best size and type of turbine for your needs.
Another way you can move from fossil fuels to alternative energy is in how you travel. Opting for an eco-friendly car or reducing the amount you drive can significantly reduce transport-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Key Takeaway: We can decrease our environmental impact by embracing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectricity. These clean energy options are more sustainable than burning fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.
8. Use reusable bags and containers
By employing reusable storage items, we can reduce the use of plastic bags and other single-use packaging materials.
Reusable grocery bags are a great way to reduce plastic bag use when shopping. Look for ones made from canvas or recycled materials like denim. They will last longer than thin plastic versions.
You can also buy stainless steel lunch boxes and bento boxes. These make packing lunches more manageable and keep food fresher than cling film or aluminium foil.
Rather than purchasing new food containers, get creative and repurpose items already around your home. For example:
- Empty yoghurt cups can make for great snack holders.
- Mason jars are ideal for salads.
- Old ice cream buckets serve as a perfect portable picnic cooler.
- You can even utilise wine bottles to store bulk foods such as grains or dried beans.
Finally, don’t forget those little things like straws and coffee lids. Investing in metal straws or a travel mug can save money and protect our environment.
It may seem small, but every bit counts when reducing emissions related to single-use packaging.
Key Takeaway: We can reduce single-use packaging by reusing and repurposing products such as grocery bags, lunch boxes and storage containers.
9. Plant trees or support reforestation projects
Planting trees or supporting reforestation projects is an integral part of reducing emissions and tackling climate change.
Trees can act as a sponge, absorbing CO2 from the air and thus decreasing global warming.
Reforestation also helps preserve biodiversity, improves air quality, and provides many other benefits for people and the environment.
Supporting reforestation projects can be done in many ways. Donating or volunteering to assist with reforestation initiatives is one way to help. Organisations like Eden Reforestation and Our Forest are great examples of groups making a difference through tree-planting efforts.
The countless benefits of planting trees are evident. They:
- Act as a carbon sink and absorb CO2.
- Provide shelter and food sources for wildlife.
- Protect against soil erosion.
- Help improve water quality by filtering out pollutants from runoff water.
- Create job opportunities in poverty-stricken rural areas.
- Raise property values when planted close to residences or commercial establishments.
Moreover, research suggests trees can reduce stress levels while sharpening mental acuity. So, if you need some "me time", stroll through your local leafy landscape.
Key Takeaway: To effectively combat climate change, individuals can donate money or time to reforestation initiatives. This has many benefits, including improving biodiversity, creating jobs and removing carbon from the atmosphere.
By implementing these nine simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint, you can help mitigate climate change. We all have a responsibility to protect our environment, starting with making small changes today.
Visit the Emission Index blog to learn more about emissions, climate change, and how you can help protect our planet's future.