The basics: Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use, and disposal of products or services. Your carbon footprint includes carbon dioxide – the gas most commonly emitted by humans – and others including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing the greenhouse effect and global warming.
The average carbon footprint in the United States is 16.49 metric tons compared to the average carbon footprint in the European Union, which is 6.4 metric tons. While Europe is doing better than the US on this front, the global target for individual carbon emissions to limit the impacts of climate change is 2 metric tons. We’ve all got work to do.
September 21st is Zero Emissions Day! Also known as ZeDay. Zero Emissions Day intends to give the world a break from fossil fuels and to raise awareness of the ecological harm caused by carbon emissions. We are feeling the effects of global warming worldwide, and especially now as the western United States is clouded in smoke from wildfires. Zero Emissions Day can bring our attention to the role that we each play in reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.
So let’s tackle our carbon footprint together! Here are 50 simple ideas to reduce your carbon emissions today and every day:
Travel and Commuting
- Going carless can save about 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide, and if you aren’t ready to give up driving, buy an electric car and run it on clean energy.
- If you have a car, service it regularly to keep it running well. Check those tires!
- Skip the AC and roll down the windows when you can – air conditioning drives up the carbon footprint of your commute.
- Take your roof rack, bike rack, or roof box off your car when you don’t need it. They make the car heavier and cause more wind resistance, reducing fuel efficiency.
- Carpool if you can.
- Better yet, walk or bicycle to run errands
- When you vacation, patronize green hotels.
- Consider taking a road trip instead of flying if your destination isn’t too far and you are accompanied by other travelers. Also, try renting a low-emitting car if yours isn’t exactly eco-friendly.
- When you aren’t in your hotel room, turn off the lights, tv, and air conditioner.
- Leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of your room for the duration of your stay. This cuts down on chemical cleansing agents, electricity used in vacuuming, and the washing of bed linens.
- Fly non-stop and go economy. Business Class is responsible for almost 3x as many emissions as the economy.
- Purchase carbon offsets when you must fly.
- Be carbon smart with your recreation. Choose hiking, kayaking, and beach volleyball over sky diving, powerboating, or shopping.
In the average American home, 25 percent of energy is used to heat spaces, 13 percent is used to heat water, 11 percent is used for cooling, and the rest is spent on appliances, according to estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Small changes can make a big difference.
- Do an energy audit to learn how you use or waste energy and help identify ways to be more energy-efficient. If you would like an energy audit for your commercial real estate property, let us know!
- Buy a carbon offset – they are inexpensive and an important part of offsetting carbon
- Switch to green and renewable energy
- Prioritize electric heat and electric stoves instead of gas
- Purchase energy-efficient appliances and maintain them well.
- Seal heating and cooling ducts
- Add insulation and weather stripping to doors and windows.
- Replace inefficient lighting with high efficacy fixtures and bulbs.
- Minimize use of fireplaces or wood stoves
- Unplug devices – electronics pull energy when they are plugged in even if they are powered off.
- Set your thermostat to 78 in the summer and 67 in the winter.
- Open a window if you are warm instead of AC. Put on a sweater if you are cold instead of heaters.
- Close your curtains in the winter to keep the heat in. Close curtains in the summer to keep the heat out.
- Turn down your water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Insulate your hot water tank so it takes less energy to heat your water
- Set your fridge to 35-38 degrees and your freezer to 0.
- Switch to reusable containers and products around the house – the less plastic, the better! If you use something with disposable packaging, recycle as much as possible.
- Plan your meals to reduce food waste and prioritize seasonal produce. Compost where you can.
- Embrace minimalism and a decluttered life. In addition to the price you pay at the register and the time you spend cleaning, maintaining, and managing “stuff”, every item has its own carbon footprint.
- Stop your junk mail
- Take shorter, cooler showers – even cutting your showers by one minute will save carbon.
- Plant a tree, plant a garden, plant a green roof! Plants absorb carbon dioxide and are good for pollinators to boot. Planting a garden is especially important in urban areas to offset the heat island effect of all that concrete. And if you plant something you can eat, then you cut your carbon footprint while fighting carbon emissions!
- Install solar lighting in the garden
Food and dining
Did you know that most of food’s carbon footprint comes from its production and not its transportation? So what you eat is more important than where it comes from. That said, eating only locally grown food for one year would save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 100 miles – and eating just one vegetarian meal a week for a year saves 160 miles more than that – I think we can do both!
- Eat as low on the food chain as you can – fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. And if you must eat meat, swap beef and lamb with chicken, turkey, and fish.
- Go meatless – GHGs from agribusiness are even bigger carbon polluters than fossil fuels. Red meat produces five times the carbon emissions that poultry does.
- Cut back on dairy while you are at it – the carbon footprint of cheese is comparable to that of pork, eggs, and chicken. Try replacing dairy with plant-based alternatives. Be adventurous!
- Eat local. Reduce the miles traveled for your food and ingredients
- Reduce food waste. Before you buy something in bulk, ask yourself if you really need all of it. The carbon you save on packaging will be undone if you throw the food away.
- Avoid carbon-intensive (and highly packaged) processed food.
- Ditch plastic. Give up plastic bottled water – use your refillable water bottles. Forego plastic bags and plastic wrap when purchasing fresh produce. Bring your own grocery bags to the store, store food in glass containers, and purchase less takeout food (it’s packaged in plastic or Styrofoam)
Clothes and Shopping
The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the ocean with microplastics. While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.
- Upcycle – make something new before you discard something that has ended its useful life. Upcycling is good for the planet, and it’s fun! Get creative.
- Rethink your clothing and fashion – buy clothing that will last longer and avoid fast fashion. Mend your clothes instead of disposing of them whenever possible.
- Engage in clothing swaps or resale services before donating to a thrift store.
- Shop second-hand before buying new.
- Only wash full loads of laundry.
- Wash clothes in cold water. About 90% of the energy the washing machine uses goes towards heating the water. If you wash 4 out of 5 loads in cold water, you can cut 864 pounds of CO2 emissions each year. According to org, if you wash all of your laundry in Hot/Warm water, you’ll spend about $265 a year to wash your clothes. If you wash all of your laundry in cold, your cost per year drops to just $16!
- Line-dry your clothes. One dryer load uses five times more electricity than washing. If you line-dry your clothes, you can cut the carbon footprint of your laundry by 1/3 and reduce the wear on your garments.
Do you know your carbon footprint? I calculated mine on this website – and there are lots of them. My carbon footprint is approximately 12.8 metric tons per year, which is better than average in the United States, but I can do better! I’ve got a long way to go before I achieve 2 metric tons.
What tips did I miss? What else should I be doing?
- How to Buy a Carbon Offset, via the NY Times
- How to Stop Junk Mail and Save Trees – and Your Sanity via the Washington Post
- 15 Upcycled Clothing Ideas You’ll Actually Want to Wear via Well and Good
- 10 Steps for a Zero Waste Shopping Routine via Treehugger.com
- Net Zero Carbon Today – The Hammer And The Dance
- Get The Carbon Out Of Your Supply Chain
- You Just Submitted Your Carbon Disclosure Project (Cdp) Package. Now What?
- Combat Climate Change And Increase Wellness By Changing Your Commute Style
- Electric Cars: Driving Change Where It Counts Most
- Go Green For The Holidays
- Going Green Isn’t Just For The Big Guys. Sustainability Advice For Small Businesses