From fads like “flight shaming” — the guilt that someone feels as a result of their carbon footprint from flying — to increasing emphasis on recycling single-use goods, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the impact our choices have on the environment. Your personal impact can be difficult to quantify, but one of the most effective ways to understand it is through a concept called a carbon footprint.
At Chariot Energy, we define a carbon footprint as “a single metric by which we can calculate the impact of a person, group, or organization on the environment.” It’s one of the very first steps in helping the Earth, but measuring your total impact can be tricky — between your car’s emissions, the clothes you buy or even your electricity use, it can become very complicated, very quickly. Luckily, there are many online resources that can calculate yours, like this one from Conservation International.
After calculating the size of your carbon footprint, it’s time to consider the various ways you can make changes to reduce your carbon footprint. Here are 10 easy ways you can reduce your carbon footprint by making small changes in your everyday life.
1. Drive Less
According to the EPA, an average vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.1 Now, multiply that amount of CO2 by the hundreds of millions of people around the world that sit in rush hour traffic twice daily, five days a week. That’s a LOT of greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most effective ways to put a dent in this behemoth amount of carbon emissions is to reconsider your choice of transportation.
Public transportation, such as a bus or a train, is by far the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint from travel. It’s also a great substitute for air travel. However, we understand that public transportation is not always an option, so here are a few other ways you can get around without making as big of an impact on the environment.
Perhaps one of the easiest forms of transportation that has little to no environmental impact, biking is one of the more common forms of emissions-free transportation. A study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy shows that if we actively replace biking with motor transportation, the total reduction of emissions by 2050 could reach 50% if cities aggressively pursue policies to promote sustainable modes.2 Not only can biking drastically reduce emissions, but it also doubles as a great workout and provides you an opportunity to get some fresh air.
If biking isn’t an option, hitch a ride with a friend or coworker. When you carpool and reduce the number of cars on the road, you are reducing the traffic and the amount of CO2 that is emitted – it’s a win-win for everyone!
If you want to carpool but don’t know who to catch a ride with, one of the most well-known ride-hailing apps, Uber, recently introduced UberPool, a carpool option that the company describes as a shared Uber ride that allows you to split the cost of your ride with a stranger who is headed in a similar direction.3 Not only is it more cost-effective than a regular Uber, but you are also able to share a ride and reduce you and your passenger’s carbon footprint.
2. Minimize Your Air Travel
By now, we know that air travel has a big impact on the environment, but just how much impact does air travel have on climate change? Quite a bit, actually. Air travel currently accounts for 4-9% of the total climate change impact of human activity.4
Ultimately, however, there are times when air travel cannot be avoided. When air travel is required, flying economy is not only more cost-effective but it also has less of an impact on the environment. We know it can be tempting to upgrade to business or first class for extra legroom and in-flight comfort, but flying first-class carries a larger carbon footprint, upward of three times larger than passengers in coach. First-class seats are heavier and take up more floor space than cheaper sections of the aircraft, so if air travel is the only travel option, choosing economy will lessen your carbon footprint.
3. Become a Flexitarian
By now, I’m sure everyone has heard the term “Meatless Monday,” a day where you forego meat in order to improve the impact you have on the environment. But just how much does meat consumption affect the environment?
If you were to consume an average of 8 ounces of meat a day, your average “3.5 ounces of meat (the size of a deck of playing cards), generates about 16 pounds of CO2 per day. This means that every day, the typical American eating 8 ounces of meat per day generates 36 pounds of CO2 from those meat products.” Emissions from these meat products include carbon dioxide from fossil fuels used to power farm equipment and equipment to transport the food, methane from the digestion of livestock, and nitrous oxide released from fertilized soil.
Think about all of the meals you had in the past week. How many of them included meat? By cutting out meat just one day a week, you are reducing your yearly CO2 emissions by 1,872 pounds. If you can’t imagine giving up meat more than once a day, give Meatless Monday a shot.
4. Reduce Your Consumption
Reducing your use of plastic, your food waste or the amount of water you use during your shower are all ways you can reduce in your everyday life and make an impact on the environment. A few examples include:
- Saying no to plastic straws and invest in reusable metal straws
- Avoiding plastic utensils and making sure to recycle them when you must use them
- Bringing reusable bags to the grocery store
- Avoiding bagging produce when grocery shopping and only using bags when necessary
- Investing in a reusable water bottle and saying no to single-use plastics
Analyze your daily actions and see if there are areas in which you can reduce.
5. Reuse Items Again & Again
Reuse can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. You can reuse an old t-shirt and turn it into a washrag, or you can purchase a reusable water bottle and cut down on your plastic water bottle use. A few home items you can use reuse are:
- Plastic takeout containers: clean and reuse them to store your leftovers instead of throwing them away
- Glass pasta sauce jar: Store dry rice or lentils for a plastic-free storage method
- Newspapers and magazines: recycle them as a wrapping paper alternative
The best way to be successful with this step is to be creative – the opportunities are endless!
6. Recycle Single-Use Products
Despite recycling being a popular trend, 75% of plastic ends up in landfills and only 9% is actually recycled.6 Producing waste is inevitable, so it is paramount to analyze your waste and see if any part of it can be recycled.
The most common recyclable items are paper, metal, glass and plastic, but it is important to note that all recyclables must be cleaned of any food or liquid residue and dried fully before recycled. Eat from a to-go box that had plastic utensils, for example? Rinse off the utensils and throw them in a recycling bin.
Want to recycle but don’t know where to take your items? Berecycled.org is a great source for finding recycling locations by simply entering your zip code.7
7. Find Creative Ways to Repurpose Used Items
This step of the Four R’s of Sustainability takes the most creativity but can result in the most environmentally beneficial (and fun!) projects. Taking household items that you don’t use anymore and turning them into a new item is one of the more creatively challenging but satisfying steps of the four R’s.
Need a creative kickstart?
- Take an empty milk carton and poke holes in the top of the cap and voila, you’ve got yourself a DIY watering can.
- If you have any old jewelry, remove it from its base and hot glue a magnet to the back for new and improved fridge magnets.
There are so many ways to repurpose, it just takes a bit of imagination to get started.
8. Avoid Buying Stuff You Don’t Really Need
When it comes to shopping, the first step to reducing your impact on the environment is to buy less. Simply by stopping yourself from buying things that you more or less don’t need is an avoidance of emissions. Thus, these things won’t contribute to your carbon footprint.
9. Buy the More Sustainable Option
When buying less just isn’t an option, go for the most sustainable option. If you need a new dress for your big work event, consider visiting your local thrift store or sustainable clothing shop. In 2017, landfills received 11.2 million tons of textiles, and that number has only grown.8
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and you never know what you will find, so before you buy a brand new item, think of more sustainable options.
10. Rethink Your Home’s Energy
Do you know how much energy your household uses each month? Have you considered just how much energy even the smallest appliances use? Don’t worry, the average American probably hasn’t, but in the average home, 25% of energy is used to heat spaces, 13% is used to heat water, 11% is used for air conditioning and the remainder is spent on appliances.10
Take steps throughout your home to reduce your energy usage, such as:
- Unplugging items that aren’t used constantly, like the coffee maker or toaster
- Air drying your clothes as much as possible
- Turning off the lights when you aren’t in the room
- Making sure that when you do need the lights on, you’re using energy efficient LED light bulbs, which can save an average of 75% more energy than regular light bulbs
For a complete list of ways to conserve energy, check out our article on the 29 Easiest Ways to Save Energy.
Finally, if you get the opportunity, always go solar. 😉
With a carbon footprint comes carbon offsets, which are ways to reduce or neutralize your carbon footprint — learn more about what carbon offsets are and how they work here. It is in our own hands to reduce our carbon footprint and make a change to the environment that could impact us for generations to come. Change starts with us.