“How do I reduce my carbon footprint?” is the founding question of FootprintFacts. It is the question that our website sets out to answer. Climate change is one of the most discussed topics in the world. Almost everyone agrees on the severity of this issue, yet so few people are actively trying to help.
This is understandable. Climate change is an overwhelming topic, and the science explaining it is complicated. Most people don’t even know where to start. They simply aren’t willing to go vegan or never fly again.
However, there are other ways in which people can reduce their carbon footprint. These easy ways barely impact your life, and yet can have a surprising impact. Before we can explain how to reduce your footprint, it’s important to understand a bit of the science behind climate change.
What is a carbon footprint?
The World Health Organisation defines a carbon footprint as a measure of the impact your activities have on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through the burning of fossil fuels and is expressed as a weight of CO2 emissions produced in tonnes.
Activities can range from eating to travel and much more. We’ll go into detail in some of the ways you can change your activities later in the article.
Carbon dioxide is a gas released when ‘fossil fuels’ such as petrol, diesel or coal are burned. Carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and increases the amount of energy that is reflected back to Earth. As a result, global temperatures rise and this is known as global warming. You can find out in detail how this works here.
It is important to remember that carbon dioxide is not the only ‘greenhouse gas’. In fact, there are many more. You can read about some of the other greenhouse gases in this article by Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. This is an insightful article as they list the severity and concentration of each gas. This helps us see which ones pose the largest threat.
What makes up a carbon footprint?
Since the carbon footprint is the carbon footprint released by activities, we must identify which activities release carbon dioxide. Later in this article, we will discuss how you can reduce your carbon footprint in each of these categories.
The most obvious category is travel. All conventional vehicles burn fossil fuels. So, by driving or flying or travelling by train, you are releasing carbon dioxide. Even electric cars or trains indirectly release carbon dioxide. This is because they use power that has come from a power station. However, electric vehicles are still much better for the environment. Read our article on the future of electric vehicles to find out why.
The second main sector of carbon emissions is electricity use. Any device which uses electricity indirectly releases carbon dioxide. This is because, electricity is produced by a power-station. Most power stations burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Therefore, using electricity releases carbon dioxide.
However, in some countries renewable energy is the only source of electricity. Climate Council discusses some of the countries that have transitioned to totally renewable energy here. It is important to note that renewable and carbon neutral are not the same. Renewable energy comes from a source that will never run out – such as solar. Carbon neutral energy comes from a source which releases no carbon dioxide. There is, however, a large overlap between renewable and carbon neutral. Many people use the words interchangeably.
It is very reasonable to transition to 100% renewable energy. However, this is something that is out of the control of an individual. It is, however, our responsibility to elect governments whose views concerning this are aligned with our own. For this reason, we must be informed. This video by Green Match summarises how a country could transition to renewable.
Video by GreenMatch
Food and shopping
The other major sectors of the carbon footprint are more hidden. They are diet and shopping. The food we eat can have a shocking impact on our carbon footprint. In short, this is because the energy needed to maintain the land used to grow crops or raise animals, is extremely high.
Shopping also has a surprising impact on the environment. This is because a lot of energy is required to produce new products. There is a huge scope to reduce our impact in fast fashion. Unfortunately, it has become normal for people to buy lots of new clothes, rather than reuse old ones.
How to reduce your carbon footprint
Now we understand what a carbon footprint is, and where it comes from, we will discuss how to reduce it.
Meat releases much more carbon dioxide than any other food type. For example, beef releases 7.7kg per portion. In comparison, fish releases only 1.9kg per portion. If you have one meat free meal per week you will reduce your carbon footprint by an average of 213kg per year. Alternatively eating beef once less per week will reduce your footprint by 431kg per year! There are lots of good alternatives to meat, which make it easy to mix up your diet. Some of the most common alternatives are listed here.
Remember, these do not have to be instead of ever eating meat. Instead, we advise you try having a non-meet day just once a week.
A second way to reduce your food carbon footprint is not to waste food. It’s as simple as buying what you need. Often planning can make this easier, since you know exactly what you will eat so don’t overbuy. If you find yourself often not finishing a plate, try cooking smaller portions. Also, rather than throwing away leftovers, keep them and reuse them. It’s also important to be wary of bulk foods. They are often better value but if you can’t finish it before it goes off, it will be wasted. Not only will reducing waste reduce your carbon footprint, but it will also save you a lot of money.
Consumerism accounts for a huge amount of carbon dioxide released. Every good you buy has to be manufactured, transported and much more. You can hugely reduce your carbon footprint if you reduce the number of products you buy.
Don’t buy fast fashion! Buying one t-shirt releases 7.5kg of carbon dioxide. A good alternative is to buy second hand clothes, which are cheaper and have a much lower carbon impact. Buy higher quality products. These products will last longer and work out cheaper over a longer period of time. You can also donate old clothes, since this prevents new clothes having to be manufactured. Bringing a plastic bag to the store will also mean you waste less plastic.
Using home appliances such as TVs, kitchen equipment, and lightbulbs releases almost 1000kg of carbon dioxide per year on average. You can easily reduce this amount to zero by using a renewable energy supplier. If you are in the UK we recommend bulb. Bulb supplies 100% green energy, for electron appliances and heating. This means you can save around 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per year on a renewable energy scheme. This halves the average carbon output for a UK citizen.
If you are unable to switch to a renewable energy supplier, there are still several things which you can do.
- Turn down the heating in your house and wear a jumper.
- Replace lights with LED lights – these are 85% more efficient.
- Turn off devices which are not in use – sensor lights, or smart lights help reduce your impact since you can customise when you turn them on.
There are two main ways you can reduce your travel carbon footprint. Firstly, we recommend using public transport. If you travel by train instead of by car 50km every week you will reduce your carbon footprint by 390kg per year. Travelling by train is by far the best way to travel when it comes to the environment.
The other way to reduce your footprint is by travelling less. Travelling by long distances is by far the worst thing you can do for the environment. Just 1 return flight to Greece releases 800kg of carbon dioxide. However, driving is not a good alternative. If you were to drive the same distance, it would release 760kg of carbon dioxide. So, the best solutions are either not to travel long distances where possible, or to travel by train. Travelling to Greece by train would only release 280kg of carbon dioxide. If you do fly – it’s best to try do the trip in our journey. This is because take-offs and landing use the most carbon dioxide.
You can still have great holidays in an eco-friendly and ethical way. This article by Fly Green suggests some of the ways you can travel in a more environmental way. We recommend reading this if you are planning on travelling.
Ultimately, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint to zero is to offset your footprint. It costs only around £6-£20 per 1000kg of carbon dioxide, meaning the average UK citizen could go carbon neutral for only £50. We recommend using carbonfootprint.com, however there are many good alternatives if you google “carbon offsetting”.
It’s also important to be aware of the facts. By being educated, you will be more aware when you take actions which might harm the environment. You will also be able to teach your friends and family about their impact. If you want to learn or teach the basics of climate change, FootprintFacts offers a series of courses. These are completely free – all you need to do to sign up is email us at email@example.com.
If you want to accurately track your progress to a lower carbon footprint, create an account and then take the footprint calculator and preferences test. You will also receive more detailed personalised advice to move to carbon neutral.