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Sustainable Living

The 35 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

by |December 27, 2018

Reduce your carbon footprint with these 35 easy tricks. Photo: MilicaBuha

In the face of the recent  National Climate Assessment report on the threats of climate change, the Trump administration continues to try to roll back environmental policies. Individuals, however, can make a difference by reducing their personal greenhouse gas emissions. While there are many ways to do this and save energy—such as insulating your home, putting up solar panels, and planting trees—the following are the simplest and easiest changes you can make. They require little effort or financial investment.

First calculate your carbon footprint

Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and others—that you produce as you live your life. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project determined that in order to hold the global temperature rise to 2˚C or less, everyone on earth will need to average an annual carbon footprint of 1.87 tons by 2050. Currently, the average U.S. per capita carbon footprint is 18.3 tons. By comparison, China’s per capita carbon emissions are 8.2 tons. We all have a ways to go to get to 1.87 tons.

Calculate your carbon footprint at carbonfootprint.com to find out how you’re doing. The EPA’s carbon footprint calculator can show how much carbon and money you will save by taking some of these steps.

Here are some of the easiest ways you can start to shrink your carbon footprint.

Food

1. Eat low on the food chain. This means eating mostly fruits, veggies, grains, and beans. Livestock—meat and dairy—is responsible for 14.5 percent of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from feed production and processing and the methane (25 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over 100 years) that beef and sheep belch out. Every day that you forgo meat and dairy, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 8 pounds—that’s 2,920 pounds a year. You can start by joining Meatless Mondays.

2. Choose organic and local foods that are in season. Transporting food from far away, whether by truck, ship, rail or plane, uses fossil fuels for fuel and for cooling to keep foods in transit from spoiling.

3. Buy foodstuffs in bulk when possible using your own reusable container.

4. Reduce your food waste by planning meals ahead of time, freezing the excess and reusing leftovers.

5. Compost your food waste if possible. (If you live in New York City, you can find a compost drop-off site here.

Clothing

6. Don’t buy fast fashion. Trendy, cheap items that go out of style quickly get dumped in landfills where they produce methane as they decompose. Currently, the average American discards about 80 pounds of clothing each year, 85 percent of which ends up in landfills. In addition, most fast fashion comes from China and Bangladesh, so shipping it to the U.S. requires the use of fossil fuels. Instead, buy quality clothing that will last.

7. Even better, buy vintage or recycled clothing at consignment shops.

8. Wash your clothing in cold water. The enzymes in cold water detergent are designed to clean better in cold water. Doing two loads of laundry weekly in cold water instead of hot or warm water can save up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

Shopping

9. Buy less stuff! And buy used or recycled items whenever possible.

10. Bring your own reusable bag when you shop.

11. Try to avoid items with excess packaging.

12. If you’re in the market for a new computer, opt for a laptop instead of a desktop. Laptops require less energy to charge and operate than desktops.

13. If shopping for appliances, lighting, office equipment or electronics, look for Energy Star products, which are certified to be more energy efficient.

14. Support and buy from companies that are environmentally responsible and sustainable.

Home

15. Do an energy audit of your home. This will show how you use or waste energy and help identify ways to be more energy efficient.

16. Change incandescent light bulbs (which waste 90 percent of their energy as heat) to light emitting diodes (LEDs). Though LEDs cost more, they use a quarter of the energy and last up to 25 times longer. They are also preferable to compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs, which emit 80 percent of their energy as heat and contain mercury.

17. Switch lights off when you leave the room and unplug your electronic devices when they are not in use.

18. Turn your water heater down to 120˚F. This can save about 550 pounds of CO2 a year.

19. Installing a low-flow showerhead to reduce hot water use can save 350 pounds of CO2. Taking shorter showers helps, too.

20. Lower your thermostat in winter and raise it in summer. Use less air conditioning in the summer; instead opt for fans, which require less electricity. And check out these other ways to beat the heat without air conditioning.

21. Sign up to get your electricity from clean energy through your local utility or a certified renewable energy provider. Green-e.org can help you find certified green energy providers.

Transportation

Because electricity increasingly comes from natural gas and renewable energy, transportation became the major source of U.S. CO2 emissions in 2017. An average car produces about five tons of CO2 each year (although this varies according to the type of car, its fuel efficiency and how it’s driven). Making changes in how you get around can significantly cut your carbon budget.

22. Drive less. Walk, take public transportation, carpool, rideshare or bike to your destination when possible. This not only reduces CO2 emissions, it also lessens traffic congestion and the idling of engines that accompanies it.

23. If you must drive, avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration. Some studies found that aggressive driving can result in 40 percent more fuel consumption than consistent, calm driving.

24. Take care of your car. Keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your fuel efficiency by three percent; and ensuring that your car is properly maintained can increase it by four percent. Remove any extra weight from the car.

25. When doing errands, try to combine them to reduce your driving.

26. Use traffic apps like Waze to help avoid getting stuck in traffic jams.

27. On longer trips, turn on the cruise control, which can save gas.

28. Use less air conditioning while you drive, even when the weather is hot.

29. If you’re shopping for a new car, consider purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle. But do factor in the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of the car as well as its operation. Some electric vehicles are initially responsible for more emissions than internal combustion engine vehicles because of manufacturing impacts; but they make up for it after three years. This app rates cars based on their mileage, fuel type and emissions from both the production of the car and, if they are EVs, from generating the electricity to run them.

Air travel

30. If you fly for work or pleasure, air travel is probably responsible for the largest part of your carbon footprint. Avoid flying if possible; on shorter trips, driving may emit fewer greenhouse gases.

32. Fly nonstop since landings and takeoffs use more fuel and produce more emissions.

33. Go economy class. Business class is responsible for almost three times as many emissions as economy because in economy, the flight’s carbon emissions are shared among more passengers; first class can result in nine times more carbon emissions than economy.

34. If you can’t avoid flying, offset the carbon emissions of your travel.

Carbon offsets

A carbon offset is an amount of money you can pay for a project that reduces greenhouse gases somewhere else. If you offset one ton of carbon, the offset will help capture or destroy one ton of greenhouse gases that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere. Offsets also promote sustainable development and increase the use of renewable energy.

This calculator estimates the carbon emissions of your flight and the amount of money needed to offset them. For example, flying economy roundtrip from New York to Los Angeles produces 1.5 tons of CO2; it costs $43 to offset this carbon.

You can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for any or all of your other carbon emissions as well.

The money you pay goes towards climate protection projects. Various organizations sponsor these projects. For example, Myclimate funds the purchase of energy efficient cookstoves in Rwanda, installing solar power in the Dominican Republic, and replacing old heating systems with energy efficient heat pumps in Switzerland. Cotap sustainably plants trees in India, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Nicaragua to absorb CO2; you can sign up for monthly offsets here. Terrapass funds U.S. projects utilizing animal waste from farms, installing wind power, and capturing landfill gas to generate electricity. It also offers a monthly subscription for offsets.

Get politically active

35. Finally—and perhaps most importantly since the most effective solutions to climate change require governmental action—vote! Become politically active and let your representatives know you want them to take action to phase out fossil fuels use and decarbonize the country as fast as possible.

 

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Kalpna Hickin
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Kalpna Hickin

thank you for this information, I do my share but could improve. As the richest people on earth use more carbon their should pay carbon tax.

OzDoc39
Guest
OzDoc39

I do agree with you Kalpna, the richest people use an average of 1000x times more (the richer the more they use), since they have mansions (requires a lot more power), boats, private aeroplanes etc. Their Co2 emissions are through the roof, so carbon tax for the rich (especially ultra rich) would go a huge way to offsetting their extravagant lifestyles and the world in general and wouldn’t even impact them hardly at all.

Joseph Mitchener
Guest

In your list of “ways to reduce your carbon footprint” I notice that you forgot to mention the single most important thing a family can do: have one fewer children. Do I sense fear of stating the unpopular?

Jim
Guest
Jim

Popular or not, you may be wrong because people are both the cause of and solution to all their problems. People are not wolves. With wolves and chickens, the more wolves: the fewer chickens, and the fewer wolves: the more chickens. With people, it is just the opposite: the more people you get more chickens not less. That extra kid may contribute to sustainablility.

Emma
Guest
Emma

Thanks for the tips. However, #32 which advises non-stop flying is unlikely to be true most of the time as non- stop flights tend to burn large quantities of fuel carrying the additional fuel mass. In general a 50/50 split is the most fuel efficient way to take a long flight.

Bruce Wade
Guest
Bruce Wade

Maybe we should consider adding one more idea. #36. Save carbon rich material from turning into CO2. Reduce your carbon footprint by keeping dead plant around longer. A leaf falls on the ground and is decomposed this year. I dry a leaf and put it a book and can be there in 100 years.

Patric
Guest

Your point about eating less meat, er maybe even going full vegan is incorrect. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter one thing what you eat. Meat might be responsible for more greenhouse gasses, but for vegitarians they cut down millions of acres of forest eacht year to provide the room to grow their crops (Just look at the soy farms in Brazil and the palm olive fields in Malaysia). Deforestation causes far more greenhouse gas emission than cattle, and it also takes away the only means by which CO2 can be removed from the air. This problem… Read more »

Sarah Fecht
Editor

Hi Patric,

We can both agree that deforestation is a big problem for climate change. However, it takes 12 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of beef. It is therefore much more efficient, and requires less land and deforestation, if we just eat the grain itself. It’s like cutting out the middleman, only the middleman = cows 🙂

Other interesting stats here: http://holdthebeef.org/#new-page-4

Renee Cho
Guest
Renee Cho

Actually 70 to 75% of the world’s soy is used for animal feed for chickens, pigs, cows and farmed fish. After beef, which is #1, soy is the second largest cause of deforestation.

glenda wachter
Guest
glenda wachter

I am a vegan and have solved the problem of soy and palm oil. I don’t use either, and am a healthy
vegan.

David
Guest

Hello there! Terrific points about energy conservation and carbon footprint reductions. Props to the author(s)!
I happen to run a blog devoted to renewables and energy efficiency and thought one of my articles about energy audit tools might be useful to your readers if you incorporate it in this article.

Here it goes: https://www.everysolarthing.com/blog/energy-audit-tools/
There are no ads or affiliate links whatsoever.

Either way, keep up the important work of spreading a word about environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

How can I reduce my carbon footprint and still be warm

Neil Leary
Guest
Neil Leary

Lots of options. Get a programmable thermostat and set it so that you are comfortable but not crazy hot or cold; seal air leaks in your home; add insulation; don’t leave doors & windows open when running furnace or AC; reduce the temperature setting of your hot water heater to 120 F; choose to live close to where you work and shop so that you can walk, ride a bike, or take public transit; show up at public meetings to advocate for mixed use zoning, higher density zoning, public transit; choose renewable energy if your state/city allows you to choose… Read more »

Elisa
Guest

Can you say more about how using reusable bags reduces the carbon footprint please? we are trying to pass a bag ban in my town and need all the solid scientific data we can get.

Siti Nur Amalia
Guest

Thanks a lot for the tips..
by the way, you mention that better to wash in cold water.. what will happen if we wash with warm water?is there any risk?

Linda
Guest
Linda

I don’t think there’s any risk except that it takes energy to heat water, therefore higher carbon footprint

Corinn
Guest
Corinn

This is very informative always trying to cut down on my impact especially since we never know when we’re gonna need filtered air don’t want it to be in my life time but at this rate it might

Hi
Guest
Hi

We all need to work harder to save our environment

Sharron
Guest
Sharron

Finally an article that actually lays out what each of us can do. The problem seems so overwhelming.