The industrial age has brought forth many advances in buildings, transportation, and agriculture. These advancements have also created a huge carbon footprint, wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. What can be done to reduce our contribution of greenhouse gases?
These are the 4 areas of your life we will explore to help you find ways to lower your own carbon footprint:
- In the home
- What you eat
- Shopping behaviors
What is the carbon footprint?
This is the amount of greenhouse gases created by our behaviors. The U.S. has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, with a per capita carbon footprint of 18.3 tons. Greenhouse gases produced by human activities have increased the global temperature about 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial age and will likely reach 1.5 degrees Celsius by around 2040.
Why does the global temperature matter?
A global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius would result in millions of deaths due to heatwaves, droughts, increased flooding due to excessive precipitation, intensified and more frequent storms, more dangerous wildfires, and increased sea levels due to melting ice sheets. The biodiversity of the natural world will also suffer substantially due to the reduction of rainforest biomass, extensive loss of natural spaces, as well as loss of aquatic life as a result of low oxygen levels and warmer temperatures in the ocean.
You can only imagine the instability and chaos this will cause for every living thing on Earth. We can find ways to live sustainably in order to reduce our carbon footprint. The EPA has a calculator that can give you an estimation of what your carbon footprint is in regards to home efficiency, transportation, and waste.
Here are 21 ways to reduce your carbon footprint that require minimal effort and financial investment. By being conscious of your energy use, diet, mobility, and consumer behaviors, you can take steps to reduce your carbon footprint.
In The Home
- Install a low flow showerhead. A large source of waste in the home is water usage. This is evident in the shower, where it is easy to overlook excessive use. By installing a low flow showerhead can save about 2,900 gallons per year!
- Switch light bulbs to LEDs. Although LED lights are more expensive (around $5 each), they last longer (10 years) and will save you more money over time. Not only that, but LEDs are more energy efficient and better for the environment. Switching to LED lights can save you over $1,000 over the life of 10 years.
- Turn off lights when not in use or install automatic shut-off lights, which turn off if the sensor does not detect any movement for a set period of time.
- Turn down the thermostat in the winter and turn it up in the summer. By adjusting the thermostat just two degrees down or up in the winter and summer, respectively, you could save up to 2,000 lbs of carbon dioxide per year because your temperature system doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain the temperature inside.
- Insulate your home. Replace old insulation. Plant shrubs and trees around your home, especially near windows, to help insulate it from the elements.
What You Eat
- Eat foods that are in season. Fruits that are out of season are transported over large distances to end up in the stores. Try to eat foods that are grown locally and in season.
- Eat less meat. Livestock agriculture represents 14.1% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle represents about 85% of those emissions. You don’t have to give up meat completely but eating vegan meals once or twice a week will help reduce your carbon footprint.
- Start your own garden. One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to go right outside into your garden or greenhouse and pick your own vegetables. Although the startup costs can be high for the materials, once your garden is established, you will likely spend less money on your vegetables than buying them from a store. And nothing beats the fresh taste of home grown produce.
- Compost. All of the unused vegetable scraps and yard waste can be used to make compost to be put back into your garden. This greatly reduces waste. The EPA has good guidelines on how to start composting.
- Avoid disposable dinnerware. Paper takes 20 years to decompose and Styrofoam can take millions of years. The convenience of disposable dinnerware should not outweigh the environmental impacts. Use real plates and cutlery and cups. Or choose eco-friendly products made from recycled paper or plastic.
- Drive less. Group your errands and run them together to save time and avoid unnecessary driving.
- Carpool. Especially for work. Carpooling reduces gas consumption as well as traffic congestion. If you are commuting to work, picking up an additional person will save the U.S. $33 million in gas each day!
- Ride a bicycle. The only fuel required is the food intake of the rider. On average, cycling emits 16 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, compared to 271 grams/km driving a car and 101 grams/km taking the bus.
- Maintain your car. One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to keep your car maintained. Use synthetic oil, which can last 10,000 miles, whereas conventional oil needs to be changed every 3,000. Thus, you throw away less oil if you use synthetic oil.
- If flying, choose non-stop flights. Twenty five percent of an airplane’s emissions come from the take-off and landing. Therefore, avoid connecting flights when booking your next work or leisure trip.
- When driving long distances, use cruise control. This will save money on gas.
- Look for Energy Star appliances when shopping for new appliances. Nine out of 10 American households recognize the Energy Star logo, which means they know that energy efficient appliances will help reduce greenhouse emissions.
- Bring your own reusable grocery bags when you shop.
- Buy from thrift stores. Not only is this inexpensive, buying items second-hand will support efforts to reduce landfills and encourage reuses. Only 12 percent of clothes thrown away globally are recycled, compared to paper (66%) and glass (27%).
- Buy classic investment pieces that are well made with quality materials. These types of clothes will last longer and survive the ever-changing trends. Pick a few pieces that can easily be mixed and matched to make different outfits. Poor quality clothing might be less expensive but do not last as long, forcing you to make even more purchases in the long run. This leads to more clothes being thrown out.
- Donate your clothes. Instead of tossing your old threads, donate them to consignment shops or organizations, so they can be resold or sent to people in need.
How Can Businesses and Organizations Reduce Their Carbon Footprint?
- Get rid of plastics, disposable cups, and dinnerware and encourage workers to bring their own
- Invest in renewable energy – the barriers to entry regarding solar installations have decreased significantly thanks to energy credits and loan programs
- Travel less for work by utilizing Zoom, Google Hangout, or other virtual meeting platforms
- Organize carpooling programs to reduce the number of vehicles being driven
- Offer employees free bus passes to encourage public transit
How Can I Get More Involved in Combating Global Warming?
One of the easiest things to do to help is to get out there and vote. Your voice matters. Reach out to your local representatives, get involved in local organizations that have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint, and donate to charities and organizations with missions similar to your own.
Sources: Columbia, NASA, EPA, USA Today, HGTV, Clackamas, OurStreetsMPLS, FAO, EPA, Rideshare, EnergyStar, NASA, BBC.