Reducing your carbon footprint
Reducing your carbon footprint is one of today’s most important environmental issues, especially considering the impacts that accelerated climate change is only just beginning to have on our planet. Why should you be concerned? Climate change is affecting us right now, even though you may not be aware of it. Since 2014 the world has seen record breaking temperatures not seen on earth for hundreds of thousands of years. These soaring temperatures are having many effects – in 2015 and 2016 vast areas of rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia burned out of control for months at a time, swallowing up vast areas of forest and entire villages. Each year the arctic ice coverage is shrinking each summer more and more, while in winter less ocean is refreezing – leading to rising sea levels. Ocean temperatures are also on the rise, meaning that the amount of hurricanes and the severity of them are likely to increase in the coming years. The end of 2017 saw strings of massive hurricanes sweeping into America and causing unprecedented damage as evidence of this. Other weather patterns along with their consequent side effects are becoming more common, widespread and extreme, whether those are flash floods, forest fires or droughts.
These impacts that I have mentioned above are just a flavour of what accelerated climate change is currently causing, and all of these impacts are happening right now, not 50 or 100 years in the future as many uneducated people assume, as even though on the surface climate change doesn’t seem to be affecting us a lot, if you take a look at our current climate and environment you realise that it is. As each year goes by these effects that are already having catastrophic impacts worldwide will only multiply and get worse. Accelerated climate change is being caused by the massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans are pumping into the atmosphere (as well as other gases such as methane that have similar effects). In the coming years we can expect much worse impacts as a result of climate change, such as mass extinctions of entire ecosystems due to their inability to adapt so quickly to a new climate, failing food production and millions of climate refugees seeking shelter in less effected countries.
This is why it is important that EVERYONE takes responsibility of their carbon footprint and take the necessary steps to reduce their footprint. You may assume that this would be a challenge that involves a huge amount of effort, but in reality reducing your carbon footprint is incredibly easy, and below I have compiled some of the easiest and most effective methods of reducing or offsetting your footprint in various aspects of your life. This includes:
- Reducing the carbon footprint of your house
- Reducing the carbon footprint of your transport
- Reducing the carbon footprint of your lifestyle and habits, which includes your eating habits and water use habits
- How to offset your footprint
Different activities will have varying impacts on your carbon footprint, and so I have highlighted the methods that can reduce your carbon footprint the most with (MOST EFFECTIVE) so you know which ways are the best, and you should consider the most implementing into your lifestyle.
Carbon Footprint of your House:
- (MOST EFFECTIVE) – Don’t set your thermostat above 20 ⁰C, as for every degree you go above this it will increase the energy needed by 6%-8%. Reducing your thermostat by just 1⁰C below can use 8% less energy for heating, and save 184kg of CO2 emissions (that’s around £42 saving)
- Switch to energy efficient LED bulbs – LED light bulbs cost more than conventional light bulbs, however they last for longer and also use one quarter of the energy of conventional bulbs. Energy saving bulbs have a reputation for looking ‘cold’ and ‘unattractive’ but modern bulbs get around this with special coatings and filters.
- Insulation – insulate your house as well as possible. This includes making sure you have a good insulation system in place, especially in wall cavities (if you have them) and your loft, where effective loft insulation can save an average house £250 – £300. Also make sure you have double or triple-glazed windows and thick curtains, as all these improve the insulation and energy efficiency of your house. This is turn will save you money on heating bills and also reduce your carbon footprint as the less energy you use, the smaller your carbon footprint is.
- Don’t use the dryer – use a clothes line outside as this is completely free and also reduces your carbon footprint.
- Don’t use your air conditioner – Air conditioners are usually the biggest single consumer of energy in most houses, instead use natural ventilation or a fan to keep cool.
- Install solar panels – Solar panels are a great way to get your own renewable energy, and are becoming cheaper and cheaper so it is well worth investing in. A utility bill can drop by 20% with the use of electricity from solar panels, and you can even be paid money for your excess electricity by your grid if you make more energy than you use.
- Change your toilet – A low flow toilet saves lots of water each year, helping the environment and saving you money. If you don’t want to do this, put a water bottle or similar in the tank of your toilets, as this reduces the amount of water your toilet uses in each flush (It is usually said to use bricks for this, but you shouldn’t as bricks can disintegrate in the water).
- Install underfloor heating – wall radiators are not only ugly and take up room that could be used for something else, they are incredibly inefficient. Underfloor heating tends to be seen as expensive and associated with newbuild homes, but it can be relatively cheap and is easy to install in old homes. Underfloor heating is very efficient in homes as it evenly radiates heat upwards whereas wall radiators emit lots of their heat into the wall and end up heating only a small part of the room near the radiator.
- Replace windows – Replace any single-glazed windows to double or even triple glazing as this simple change can save huge amounts of energy and money over time, and are a great investment to make for your home. Choose windows with wooden frames instead of metal or UPVC. This is because wooden framed windows are easier to repair, more insulating, last a lifetime and are much less polluting than UPVC (unplasticised poly vinyl chloride) as these frames emit toxic compounds.
- Plant trees – This is an obvious point, but is very important as it can help offset your carbon footprint but also provides an important urban habitat for species in your garden.
- Install some good curtains – ditch blinds and buy some good, thick curtains for windows and doors as these are a very important step in making your house more energy-efficient. Curtains are available that keep your house cool in summer and warm in winter, saving you money on heating bills in winter and making your house a nicer place to be in the heat of summer.
Carbon Footprint of transport:
Go green – try to drive as little as possible. Walk or cycle if the destination is close to home. When you go to work, why not car share and drive with your colleagues in one car and pick each other up on the way to your workplace. Organise a rota so everyone drives to work and you spread the cost of fuel, e.g. each work day a different person picks up and takes everyone to work, and this is repeated each week or so depending on the amount of people you are car sharing with. This is also effective for the school run, as you can share your car with others from the same school and again arrange a rota.
- Drive better – Studies have shown up to 30% of the difference in miles per gallon (MPG) is due to driving habits alone. You could save more than a ton of CO2 per year by:
– Accelerating slowly and smoothly
– Driving the speed limit
– Maintaining a steady speed
– Anticipating your stops and starts
- Tires – keep your tires properly inflated and this could save 400-700 pounds of CO2 per year.
- When you buy your next car or replace your current one, make sure it is as fuel efficient as possible or a buy a hybrid car that uses a mix of electricity as well as conventional fuel. Maybe even invest in a completely electric car from a company such as Tesla. These cars are getting more and more efficient as well as cheaper each year, and are well worth buying not only because of your hugely reduced carbon footprint but also because of the huge potential money savings over time from not buying fuel anymore.
Carbon Footprint of your Lifestyle and Habits:
- (MOST EFFECTIVE): Buy local – one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas contributors is the food industry. Most food you eat will have been grown or made on the other side of the world, and when you put all these individual food components for a meal together, the food miles (distance the food has been transported) can easily run into the thousands of miles, which would probably have been transported by planes, boats and lorries, all of which produce lots of CO2 which indirectly add to your carbon footprint. Trying to buy local products not only helps the local community and economy but reduces the food miles of your meals and consequent carbon footprint. Why not even try growing your own organic fruit and veg in your garden or a community allotment (NEVER use pesticides or similar when growing food – keep it natural and organic) instead of buying it from the shop. This growing experience is very rewarding and satisfying for the grower, and can save you hundreds of pounds each year as growing your own food is much cheaper. (For new growers, I would recommend growing runner beans if you are just starting off as these are very hardy plants with incredibly high yields which last all through summer. Growing a group of around 10-14 plants on canes can easily keep a family of 5 or 6 with beans each day for the whole summer and beyond, and produce well over £150 worth of produce. From personal experience this number of runner bean plants can produce a whole carrier-bag full of beans in just a day or two, and if you can’t eat them all you can freeze them for later in the year). If you are truly interested in starting an allotment, either by joining a community one or creating one in your garden if you have the room, it is worth borrowing a related book from a library or buying one yourself to learn more about the best plants to grow in your plot.
- (MOST EFFECTIVE) Consume less beef and dairy – although this is a little known fact, cows emit vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a gas that is 23x worse than CO due to its climate-warming properties. Over all, cows emit over 18% of greenhouse gas emissions each year (this includes the cows themselves as well as all associated emissions from transport, processing, etc). Just by reducing the amount of beef and dairy products such as milk and cheese that you consume could have HUGE impacts on your carbon footprint. Save beef for special occasions and switch to other meats like chicken with much smaller emissions, or preferably and for the best effect don’t eat beef at all. Beef in things such as cheap burgers from places like McDonalds will likely also have been transported from somewhere on the other side of the world, probably from the Amazon region in south America where over 80% of rainforest deforestation is driven by cattle ranching for cheap beef, adding to the carbon footprint of the beef even more, as well as causing the terrible loss of irreplaceable rainforest ecosystems. The same goes with dairy products – consume them sparingly or not at all. For more info on how cows are impacting global warming, what you can do to stop it and other alternatives that you should consider using instead (and a table comparing different meats and their resultant carbon footprint), check out my blog about cows and how they are influencing global warming HERE.
- Buy good quality products for things such as furniture. Think how long will it last or will it break? Buying good products that will last a lifetime will reduce your carbon footprint that would have been added to during the production and transportation of the furniture or other related product. Try to buy local – this goes for everything, not just food. It is better to buy a sofa from a nearby local dealer than having it shipped from the other side of the world, and this goes for most things you buy, especially online.
- Don’t buy unnecessarily – don’t buy something on a whim thinking that it may come in handy in the future. It probably never will and will just eventually be thrown out and dumped. Buy good quality furniture from responsible sources, or from recycled materials – many people realise that it is important to consider where you get your furniture from and not just get the cheapest option, but most forget when they are galloping around an IKEA on a Saturday looking for ‘bargains’ that look tacky and will undoubtedly break within a year. When buying anything made of wood, IKEA is a shop to avoid. IKEA is the world’s largest wood consuming sources (using 1% of all global timber), and this wood can be taken from unsustainable sources by a company who couldn’t care less about their environmental impact (although recently IKEA has been trying to improve its environmental footprint). It’s better to buy furniture from a company that sells good quality products that will last a lifetime, and only remodel, refurbish or ‘update’ your house rarely as some people think it is necessary to get brand new sofas each year or two stay in trend, when a good one can last for 10 or 20 years before being reupholstered, repurposed or recycled. Think carefully.
- Repurpose as much as you can. Don’t throw something away that could have been reused or donated (to a charity, antiques, second-hand furniture or thrift shop) as this dumped furniture (and other household objects) may end up in a landfill where it will go on to create methane, which as I have said before is 23x worse than carbon dioxide.
Carbon Footprint of your Water Use:
Try to reduce your water use as much as possible as all water needs energy to get to your house, no matter how, and the less water you use the less energy is needed and consequently the smaller your carbon footprint. It is small actions like these that added up over time have a huge impact. Some ways to reduce your water use include:
- Take shorter showers – take shorter showers to save water, and also the energy needed to heat up the water. Also install a water saving showerhead – a low flow showerhead can save 15 gallons (56.8 litres) of water if you take a 10 minute shower.
- Don’t wash your car as often – washing a normal-sized car usually takes around 150 gallons (567.8 litres) of water. That’s a lot!! Try to reduce the amount of times you wash your car each year and when you do try to be more efficient – don’t keep the hose running all the time, instead only turning it on when you need it, and only wet the parts of the car you are washing instead of trying to keep the whole car wet including the parts you aren’t even currently washing. Also consider taking your car to a professional car wash as they generally use less water and also have to drain their used water into the sewage system instead of storm drains so their washes have less of an impact on the marine environment.
- Only use your dishwasher and washing machine when completely full. These two appliances are some of the largest users of water in a household – around 22% of household water use comes from laundry machines alone.
- If you have a swimming pool use a cover to reduce evaporation and save you having to refill it as often. This will also stop leaves and similar debris from entering your pool, and potentially save the lives of local wildlife, for which an uncovered swimming pool can be a death-trap.
Offset your footprint:
(MOST EFFECTIVE) As well as reducing the amount of carbon you emit through activities, you can also easily offset your footprint by planting trees. For all of the offsetting options below links are provided if you want to know more about that particular company. There are many ways to offset your footprint including:
- Get Ecosia – Ecosia is a free search engine like Google, but with one important difference – your searches plant trees in projects all over the world. On average it takes between 40-60 searches to plant a tree, but can be a lot lower depending on what you search. The trees Ecosia plants are done so with money gained through ad revenue from your searches – this is where they get the money to plant trees and already have planted over 20,000,000 trees in various countries and projects worldwide. This is one of the easiest ways to plant trees for free, and will have an even bigger impact if you can also get your workplace/school or university to switch to Ecosia and start planting trees. Click HERE to go to their website where you can learn more about Ecosia and download it as your search engine for free. A newly remodelled Ecosia app is also available from your app store so you can use it on your phone as well.
- Having a tree-subscription with TreeEra where a certain number of trees are planted each year in your name for a small sum of money, this is a great way to offset your yearly carbon emissions with no fuss.
- Planting your own forest with Reforestum and watching it virtually grow. This is a new company where you pay money to have a certain area of land planted with trees, and over time you can add to it and eventually have your own forest in a choice of planting locations all over the world.
- There are many more companies that solely aim to plant trees such as One Tree Planted, who plant a tree for every dollar they receive, and many more can be found online if you take the time to research them.
Educate yourself on tree-planting companies – there are many, many companies that plant trees for every product they sell, whether it is 1, 2 or even 10 trees planted. If you just buy a few products from these companies each year, you can plant a lot of trees while having paid the same amount for money for the product. Notable companies (and there are many if you take the time to find them) include:
- TenTree, a company that as its name suggests plants 10 trees for every item of clothing they sell, this makes it a great purchase for yourself or a amazing eco-conscious gift for a friend or family member.
- Rainforest Coffee, who plant 3 trees for every bag of coffee they sell (if you are a coffee-fanatic, it is worth starting to buy from Rainforest Coffee as you can really plant lots of trees through this brand over time); their products and buying something from them instead of from another normal company is a great way to plant trees for ‘free’. This company has recently finished its Kickstarter campaign and will be soon starting to sell its coffee online, fresh and delivered straight to your door.
- I have only mentioned two of these companies, but there are 1000’s, and if you buy just a few objects from these companies (and there are companies like this that offer basically everything) each year instead of buying from a supermarket or online store you can plant quite a lot of trees, which in turn will help to offset your footprint.
In conclusion, you should try as hard as possible to implement as many of the above mentioned steps into your lifestyle as possible and strive to cut your carbon footprint by as much as possible. Even if you just take one of the steps I have mentioned on board that will still help to reduce your footprint. Educate others around you – your friends and family – on the importance of reducing their carbon footprints as well, as now more than ever we as a species need to recognise our impact on the environment as a result of our carbon emissions and take the steps to reduce them. If you want some more info on how to reduce your carbon footprint check out the links below or just search up ‘How to reduce my carbon footprint’ online for lots more lists and guides on the topic.
- http://www.globalstewards.org/reduce-carbon-footprint.htm – Lots more info on different ways on how you can reduce your carbon footprint
- http://green.wikia.com/wiki/How_to_reduce_your_carbon_footprint – How to reduce your carbon footprint
- https://mashable.com/2013/10/22/reduce-carbon-footprint/#YvsSYoHsuiqF – more info on how to reduce your carbon footprint