Climate change and its effects are among the most significant environmental challenges we face. In today’s fast-paced global economy, almost everything has a carbon footprint. The food you eat, the electricity transmitted to your house, the transportation you take to work — a certain amount of emissions and greenhouse gasses are attributed to these and nearly every other aspect of our lives. And these greenhouse gasses are a leading accelerator of global warming.
That’s why there’s such an effort to reduce greenhouse gasses. It’s an important initiative at every level, and there are many strategies and steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint — many with little or no financial cost or disruption to your life. Do you want to minimize your effect on the environment? Let’s look at the different actions you can take.
What Is a Carbon Footprint?
Before we describe how to reduce your carbon footprint, let’s sidestep for a second and define what it is.
First, the creation or consumption of goods and services produces greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. If that sounds weird, don’t worry. It’s something of an abstract concept. You might think, “All I did was eat a sandwich. What greenhouse gasses did that release?” But your five-minute meal isn’t what we’re talking about. Instead, consider everything that had to happen for you to have that sandwich.
A farm had to grow the grain for the bread. The grain had to be processed. A bakery had to bake the bread. If there are vegetables, those had to be grown and harvested. If the sandwich has meat, the animals had to be raised and processed. All of those steps required energy and transportation. And even once you got the ingredients to your house, you probably stored them in a refrigerator that used electricity.
And that’s just a sandwich. Add up the total greenhouse gasses associated with everything you do, and you have your carbon footprint.
Carbon footprints are measured in tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, and generally per capita. The average per capita carbon footprint in the United States is a little over 18 tons. Compare that to China’s 8.2 tons per capita. If you want to quantify your personal environmental impacts, check out our post on how to calculate your carbon footprint.
Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
For most people, their carbon footprint comes from the lifestyle choices they make at home, how they travel, what they eat, and how they shop and use consumer products. There are many easy ways to optimize your life and make a positive difference for the environment.
It Starts at Home
According to the EPA, Americans generate over a quarter billion tons of trash every year, and most of it ends up in landfills. Not to mention that electricity and energy account for a big portion of our carbon footprint at home. So making sure your house is energy-efficient and reducing waste in general, will produce savings at home.
- Purchase clean, renewable energy from your electricity provider.
- Moderate your thermostat settings and get a programmable thermostat.
- Keep the blinds closed on hot days to keep the inside cool.
- Set your refrigerator between 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the fresh food compartment and 0 degrees for the freezer.
- Look for Energy Star appliances; this means they’ve achieved energy efficiency standards.
- Seal your home with caulk, focusing on spots like the attic, windows, and doors, where leaks allow conditioned air to escape.
- Double-check the insulation in your attic and add anywhere it’s missing to make your heating and cooling system more efficient.
- Avoid single-use plastics. Tell the restaurant to skip the plastic cutlery if you take your takeout home.
- If you don’t recycle, start. Get familiar with the recycling program in your area.
- Minimize what goes to the landfill by selling or donating what you no longer use.
- Save water by installing a low-flow shower head, taking shorter showers, and turning off the water when brushing your teeth.
- Wash clothes in cold water with cold water detergent. It contains enzymes that clean better in cold water, and doing two loads of laundry weekly in cold water can save up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
- Wait until you have a full load to wash your clothes. A half-full machine uses as much water and electricity as a whole machine.
- Turn off the lights when you leave the room, and unplug electronic devices when you’re not using them.
- Swap out incandescent light bulbs for LED bulbs, which are 90% more efficient and last longer.
- Set the thermostat to 78 in summer and 67 in winter. And turn off the heat and AC when you’re not home to reduce your monthly energy bill.
- Adjust your water heater to 120˚F and save 550 pounds of CO2 every year.
Transportation is a big piece of any carbon footprint, but that also means that any effort makes a difference. Regardless of the distance, keep an environmentally friendly frame of mind whenever you travel. Cars are a significant emitter of carbon dioxide, so drive less whenever possible. Can you walk, ride a bike, share a ride, or take public transit? Just a few adjustments will ensure your trips have as low an impact as possible.
- Use alternative transportation like the bus or train at least once a week. If your travel routes overlap, try carpooling with your coworkers.
- Instead of traveling long distances, stay closer to home for your vacations.
- If public transportation is available where you live, use it.
- Drive less. Hold off on running errands until you can do several on the same trip.
- Be an efficient driver by driving the speed limit, coasting down hills and toward lights, and turning off the car instead of idling for long periods.
- Service your car regularly and make sure your car’s tires are appropriately inflated. Low air pressure can make your car work harder than it needs to, using gas and releasing more emissions.
- Don’t overdo it with aggressive braking and acceleration. This style of driving uses significantly more gas than calmer, more consistent approaches.
- Save gas by using cruise control on the highway or freeway.
- Don’t haul anything you don’t need. Remove any unnecessary cargo from your vehicle and its trunk.
- When it’s time to purchase a new car, consider getting a hybrid or an electric vehicle. While the production and operation of the vehicle still involve greenhouse gasses, it’s substantially less than cars that operate on traditional fuel.
- Can you go carless for an entire year? Try it. It could save 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide, according to a 2017 study from researchers at Lund University and the University of British Columbia
- Flying has the most significant carbon footprint of any mode of transportation. So fly less and when you do fly, go direct and eliminate stops along your route.
- Fly coach — the emissions from the flight are shared by everyone. This is a big contrast from business class, accounting for three times as many emissions and an even more significant difference from first-class, which generates nine times more emissions.
- Purchase offsets for your carbon emissions if your airline or travel company gives you the option. Carbon offsets go toward various efforts like restoring forests and improving transportation efficiency.
Clean Up Your Diet
Global food production has a massive impact on the environment. The more energy-intensive the production and distribution of a given product are, the bigger the impact of that product. Animal products like meat and dairy require more land, water, and energy, accounting for 14.5% of human-made greenhouse gasses. Shipping food from overseas requires more resources than local distribution. So when it comes to reducing the carbon emissions that result from your diet, eating local, low-impact, plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans is a solid strategy.
- Make plant-based foods the foundation of your diet. Every day that you skip meat and dairy, you’ll drop your carbon footprint by eight pounds, which adds up to nearly 3,000 pounds over one year. Start by participating in Meatless Mondays.
- Here’s a big one — Americans waste around 40 percent of the food they buy. So don’t purchase more than you need!
- Buy in bulk only when it makes sense and freeze extra in reusable containers.
- Compost your food waste. It reduces what ends up in the landfill, and you can use it in your garden.
- Eat less red meat or avoid it entirely. In addition to requiring land and resources, cows also produce methane. And a 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that red meat affects the environment 100x more than plant-based food.
- If you don’t want to switch entirely to a plant-based diet, try it for a few meals every week. Any change is good change, and you might find a few new favorite foods.
- Purchase food that’s locally grown. Fewer miles to transport equals fewer emissions.
- Stop buying plastic water bottles and get a refillable, reusable bottle. It cuts down on plastic production and pollution, and you’ll probably drink more water and stay better hydrated, too!
- If you eat fish, purchase fish acquired through sustainable fishing or farming.
- Bring reusable bags to the grocery store and skip the plastic.
Our purchasing and consumption impacts include how we shop and what we buy. Many people don’t associate things like clothes or household items with their carbon footprint, but the production and distribution of everything emits carbon.
- The biggest tip for reducing your carbon footprint associated with your consumption is simply buying less stuff! Do you need it? If not, skip it.
- Dress sustainably by purchasing clothes with the fair trade logo. This indicates your clothes were made sustainably.
- When you can, buy quality clothing that lasts; skip the fast fashion.
- Shop vintage. Not only is it stylish, but it’s an opportunity to save money and benefit the environment.
- Donate gently used clothes. Use them for cleaning rags or sewing projects if they’re too worn.
- Got unused blankets or bedding? Don’t throw them away. Check with local animal shelters as they often have a steady need for those items.
- Avoid all consumer goods with too much packaging, and don’t be afraid to tell the company your opinion.
- When purchasing appliances, look for units that are Energy Star rated. They’re more efficient and will save energy and money.
- Support environmentally responsible and sustainable companies, and let them know you appreciate their values.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With Green Energy From Energy Texas
Reducing your carbon footprint isn’t just good for the environment. Many of these steps can also be good for your health and wallet. If you’re ready to make a significant change, Energy Texas can help. Exercise your right to choose your electricity provider and sign up for one of our 100% solar and wind-powered plans. It’ll provide you with renewable energy and send your carbon footprint straight down. It’s just one of the initiatives you can take to help protect the environment.