We are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious as a society, which means that more and more of us are growing concerned by the carbon footprint that we are leaving on the earth for future generations. The question is, can we really make any changes as individuals to make the world a greener place? Read on to find out.
What is a Carbon Footprint?
The term ‘carbon footprint’ is derived from the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere in the pursuit of everyday activities. Driving a car, burning fossil fuels to warm a home, and even the construction of food and packaging – all of these contribute to our carbon footprint, which is typically applied in tons of CO2 emitted over the course of a year.
Motor vehicles are arguably the most common causes of CO2 emissions, with every litre of petrol that is burned while we drive releasing around 2.3kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The construction of five plastic carrier bags or two plastic water bottles will add another kg to the tally, while even such common – and essential – undertakings as using a computer and charging our smartphones also contribute to the emissions.
If you’re curious as to how high your own carbon footprint is, check out this online carbon calculator to give yourself an idea.
Why Does it Matter?
Putting it bluntly, carbon footprints are devastating to the environment – not least because of their impact on global warming.
Climate change is a huge concern (for more information on this, be sure to investigate the highly regarded documentary from former US Presidential candidate Al Gore An Inconvenient Truth and it’s impending follow-up An Inconvenient Sequel). In addition, we are burning and using resources faster than the earth can replace them. Sooner or later these finite resources will expire, and that will spell disaster for future generations.
Even if you are not interested in helping the environment, there is a cost implication to carbon footprints. Governments all around the world have begun to levy charges against these emissions, and nobody likes to be billed with avoidable charges. Businesses, in particular, can benefit from government-sanctioned incentives on the taxes levied by the same body.
How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint?
The good news is that we are on the right track already. Thanks to the introduction of charges for carrier bags, reduction in the use of coal burning and an increased understanding of the dangers of CO2, emissions fell by 6% in 2016. There is still plenty of work to be done, however, and we can all play our part. For some tips, investigate this video series, which offers a course in how to shrink your carbon footprint in just thirty days. However, there are a great many ways that we can make a difference ourselves in our daily lives and routines.
Reduce Your Travel Carbon Footprint
- Don’t Always Drive – is it necessary to use your car on each occasion that you do so, especially if there is more than one vehicle within your family or peer group? Consider walking or cycling, which is fantastic exercise as well as being wholly eco-friendly.
- Carpool Where Possible – if you and several others live and work in similar areas, why not share the responsibility of driving? One car is far better for the environment than three or four when all are taking the same route, especially as it will help reduce congestion on the road and prevent a long line of cars each emitting carbon into the atmosphere.
- Research Vehicle Emissions – a car is still a necessity in the modern world, but when you are looking to purchase a new vehicle be sure to check the model’s fuel and CO2 data – or consider an electric car for zero emissions.
- Drive Slower – not only is this practical safety advice that will protect you and other road users from coming to harm, but by cutting out speeding and the unnecessary revving of engines actually will reduce carbon emissions by around a third.
- Use Public Transport – a bus may be a larger vehicle with more emissions than a five-door car, but it also carries up to eight times more passengers. Imagine if the passengers of every car on a bus route were instead sharing the one vehicle – the roads would be virtually empty, and the sky significantly clearer! Trains emit even less CO2, and may well get you to a cross-country destination faster than driving.
- Only Fly When Necessary – sometimes it’s not actually necessary to jet set across the globe; can a video conference perform the same task as a face-to-face meeting? If you must fly, go economy – it may be tempting to punish your credit card in the name of extra leg room, but the more people that fly economy, the fuller a single plane will be. Holidays in the same country – also known as staycations – are also increasingly popular.
Reduce Your Home Energy Carbon Footprint
- Insulate and Seal Your Home – any number of improvements can be made to your home that may look expensive on paper, but will save you a small fortune in the future – as well as having a hugely beneficial environmental impact. Double-glazed windows and insulated walls, in particular, can make your home warmer and thus more energy efficient, reducing the need to rack up those emissions in order to keep the house heated to a comfortable temperature – and provide a welcome reduction to your bills during the traditionally costly winter months.
- Purchase energy-efficient appliances – when the time comes to replace your oven, dishwasher, washing machine or anything else, consult the Energy Saving Trust’s guide to the most appropriate appliances.
- Use Energy Saving Lightbulbs – when a lightbulb reaches the end of its natural use, don’t just replace it like-for-like – look into an energy saving alternative. These will reduce the emissions released into the atmosphere by some 20%, and last longer than their standard counterparts – once again, you’ll be saving money at the same time as the planet.
- Switch to LED Lighting – energy-saving lightbulbs are a great start, but LED lights require just a fraction of the energy absorbed by metallic bulbs. You could also try lighting candles or lamps instead of overhead lighting, but only if it’s safe to do so!
- Watch Your Water Usage – it’s so easy to use unnecessary amounts of water, but happily, it’s equally simple to stop doing so. Every time we utilise running water from our taps we are having an impact on the environment. Try cutting your shower time down by a few minutes, or switching to a shower if you currently soak in the bath. Don’t fill the kettle to the brim every time you make a cup of tea – just add enough water for your needs, or you’ll just end up tipping most of it away. When washing dishes, run a full bowl use that rather than a constant stream of water that runs into the drain.
- Unplug Electrical Devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game consoles, vaping devices… we tend to leave all of the above plugged in overnight out of habit. Doing so comes with no benefits, but harms the environment – even when a device is fully charged and sucks no more power from a wall point, it is sending emissions into the sky. Unplug your gadgets once they are fully powered.
- Turn Things Off – it’s easy and tempting to leave the bathroom or bedroom lights on as you’re likely to be back in the room shortly, but you’ll be astonished at how much energy can be saved by switching unnecessary lighting off when not required. Equally, turning off televisions sets and plug sockets at the mains as opposed to leaving them on stand-by can have a huge impact for the better.
- Solar Panels – obviously the installation of solar panels requires a financial and technical ability that many people will not possess, but if they are at all an option then such a power source can also make a huge difference to your energy efficiency and environmental impact.
Reduce Your Food and Shopping Carbon Footprint
- Don’t Waste Food – food wastage has a huge impact on our carbon footprint; one bigger than the national average of a great many countries. Supermarkets are making inroads into preventing their wastage having a greater influence by embracing recycling models, and it’s our responsibility as individuals to do the same. If you must dispose of food, do so by recycling.
- Shop Smart – the potential for wastage should be factored into our shopping habits, ensuring that we do not purchase more than we’ll be able to consume before it spoils. But what you need, not what habit dictates you pick up every time – and consider making smaller and more regular excursions to the supermarket.
- Use Bags for Life – paying five pence for a plastic bag every time you go shopping is annoying, but that’s nothing compared to the impact the creation of these carriers has on the environment. Make you sure you have a plentiful supply of re-usable ‘bags for life’ and take them with you each and every time you shop.
- Eat Organic – in a perfect world we would all live off the land, but unfortunately, that isn’t an option just yet. However, by purchasing fresh and seasonal produce from local sources we can drastically reduce the amount of ‘food miles’ racked up by importing foodstuffs from all over the world.
- Reduce Your Meat and Dairy Intake – cows and other livestock are not easy to raise, and in particularly carnivorous territories such as South America crucial swatches of the rainforest are destroyed in order to create enough space to meet farming demand. Belching cows also play a significant role in climate change, so as lovable as these animals are, perhaps it would not be a bad idea to slow down on breeding them.
Can I Donate to Any Charities That Specialise in Reducing Carbon Emissions?
You most certainly can. An increasing number of charities and volunteer programmes are arising all over the world to help combat the impact of CO2 emissions.
- Tree Planting initiatives are a great way of combatting the impact of our carbon footprints.
- The World Land Trust seeks to save the rainforests, which are hugely important in attempts to offset the damage CO2 is doing to the future of the planet.
- Greenpeace work tirelessly to preserve and improve the environment.
- The Climate Group will gratefully accept any donations in their ambitious attempts to bring the world’s climate footprint down to zero.
- The Footprint Trust will also accept any donations of funding or time.
Below you will find a summary of all the links that have been sourced within this article. All of them are recommended bookmarks if you are interested in learning more about the dangers of carbon footprints, and what we can do to reduce ours.