As we all know, real solutions call for action on a global scale – a systemic, policy-based change. Yet, this doesn’t mean that an average individual, such as you and me, has zero control. It’s quite the contrary. Surrendering to such reality checks, throwing in the towel, and only traveling by private jet will hardly help the case. But, striving to align your day-to-day actions and habits with your values? That can have a ripple effect: it can inspire the people around you to take action too. And that’s what leads to real change. So, as you can see, we all have a part to play in the fight against climate change. If you’re ready to do yours, this guide will walk you through seven simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Drive less or ditch the car altogether
We’re all aware of the amount of exhaust that traditional cars emit. But do you know that CO2 emissions from transportation became the top source of greenhouse gases as of November 2017, thus surpassing even emissions from electricity generation? In that same year, researchers at the University of British Columbia and Lund University conducted a study that showed that going carless for an entire year would drive the carbon footprint way down – it could save roughly 2.6 tons of CO2. So, you could try taking public transportation or carpool to work, organizing ride-sharing vehicles for your kids’ school trips, or important corporate events. Finally, walk, or ride a bike when traveling short distances!
Caption: CO2 emissions from transportation became the number one source of greenhouse gases.
Alt-tag: An image of traffic congestion.
But let’s be realistic. It’s highly unlikely you won’t need your car this year. We get it. Luckily, there are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint while driving:
- Going easy on the gas and brakes
- Limiting your air conditioner
- Switching your engine off if you expect to be stationary in traffic for some time
- Regularly servicing and maintaining your car
- Keeping the tires pumped correctly at all times
- Driving at speeds of less than 15mph or more than 60mph
2. Go plant-based
Besides helping the mission to take cars off the road, what we choose to put on our plates can also help reduce carbon footprint – perhaps even more than cars, experts say. Unfortunately, when it comes to what the most environmentally-friendly diet is, the research is still inconclusive. Nevertheless, experts mostly agree that eating less red meat is a much better choice for the environment due to the significant amount of water, land, and feed used in its production. Some estimates show that beef gives off 6 pounds of CO2, or more, per serving, whereas it’s less than half a pound for a serving of rice, apples, or potatoes. Besides a vegan diet, both vegetarian or pescatarian diets are arguably more eco-friendly than a diet that includes a lot of meat.
Naturally, everything we’ve mentioned hinges upon precisely what you’re eating and how much of it. For instance, replacing that meat with dairy will cause your emissions to rise again. Similarly, eating local makes a great difference since fewer food miles entails fewer emissions. Finally, strive to waste less. Did you know that an average US citizen wastes roughly 40% of the food they buy?
3. Optimize the energy in your home
Looking for ways to shrink your carbon footprint? Start at home. First things first – a home energy audit will help you figure out how much you’re wasting. Once that is complete, a few simple tweaks and adjustments can deliver a decreased carbon footprint – and your energy bill! An average American household uses 25% of energy to heat spaces, 13% to heat water, and 11% for cooling. The remainder is typically spent on appliances, as the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates. So, what can you do about it? You can limit your own carbon footprint.
- Turn down the heat (use a programmable or smart thermostat; keep blinds closed);
- Turn down your water heater to 120 °F;
- Turn off lights and appliances at the power outlet when not using them;
- Swap out your desktop computer for a laptop;
- Choose LED lights rather than incandescent lights;
- Set your fridge to around 35 to 38 °F, and your freezer to 0 °F;
- Choose an energy supplier that runs on renewables;
4. Tackle your home’s insulation and design
Switching to green heating and electricity is probably the most effective way to cut carbon at home. But understandably, this may be too pricey for a lot of people. Luckily, there’s always “the next best thing”, and, in this case, it’s making your home well insulated. Any minor changes you can make – from DIY hacks to building upgrades – can make a difference. For instance, sealing the trouble spots in your home, such as the attic, doors, and windows, will help trap heat effectively, thus trimming down your energy usage. Next, proper insulation helps keep the temperature in the house stable, and a cool roof installment will keep your home cool in summer by redirecting light away from your house.
5. Shop and dress sustainably
All purchases come with a carbon price tag. But, take “fast fashion”, for instance, where clothes are produced quickly and cheaply. According to the World Resources Institute, roughly twenty clothing items per person are manufactured every year. But, aside from the production process itself – which, by the way, expels 1.2 bn tons of CO2 per year (more than the shipping and the aviation industries joint) – the wear-once-and-toss attitude saturating high street fashion results in racks of flimsy apparel turning into 1 million tons of waste every single year. The point is – in the world of fast-changing trends and low prices, it’s easy to let our voracious consumerism take over, so mitigating it will make the biggest impact. Besides that, you could try looking for Fairtrade, or another similar logo, investing in items that last, donating your old clothes, shopping vintage, considering the fabric, etc.
Besides consumers, industry participants, such as brands, could just as easily make their contribution to emission reduction. For example, this could be through increased usage of sustainable transport, greener storage solutions and smart use of storage, a decrease of overproduction, improvement of their packaging, etc. Also, if manufacturers and fiber producers were to decarbonize material production and processing, minimize production and manufacturing waste, and decarbonize garment manufacturing, we’re looking at 61% of the accelerated abatement, experts say.
6. Reduce, reuse, and recycle
E.P.A.’s report from 2014 shows that Americans generate around 258 million tons of waste per year, 169 million tons of which end up piling up in landfills and incinerators. This classic trio of R’s ought to form the pillars of your sustainable ideology. It means avoiding single-use items as much as possible and always asking yourself if the item you do get can go another round. For example, the next time you go shopping, don’t head out without bringing your own bags. It also means cutting down on paper and skipping the disposable dishes and cutlery. Properly recycle any plastic, metal, glass, or paper that comes your way as well. Finally, it means buying only what you absolutely need to avoid excess or waste items. The three R’s – three ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.
7. Speak green
Finally, if you’re passionate about saving the environment, one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by exercising this passion. Knowing your facts will help you better explain to your family, friends, and local representatives the importance of helping our planet. This, in turn, will help bring the issue to the fore. Joining local climate action groups will keep you in the know about how you can be of help in your community. And using your vote to support the policies that protect the environment could curb climate change.
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