What is a carbon footprint?
The term ‘carbon footprint’ refers to the total amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere as a result of someone’s actions. Greenhouse gases are those responsible for the greenhouse effect, or warming of the Earth’s surface, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Carbon footprints are usually measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. There are a lot of actions that can cause greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere, including use of fossil fuels, deforestation and inefficient waste management.
How can I calculate my carbon footprint?
Online tools can help you calculate your personal carbon footprint. They take into account your energy consumption, diet, modes of transport, shopping habits and waste management. WWF and the Carbon Footprint Calculator are both great resources to help you understand your carbon footprint and pinpoint areas where you might be able to reduce emissions.
How can I lower my carbon footprint?
At this point it is worth mentioning that the term ‘carbon footprint’ was actually popularised by BP thanks to a $250 million advertising campaign designed to move attention away from fossil fuel companies and onto individual responsibility for reducing emissions. In fact, just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, so ‘individual responsibility’ is a small splash in the ocean when compared to the impact that large corporations have on the planet.
Nevertheless there are still ways in which we as individuals can affect change. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint and have a positive impact on our planet.
Switch to renewable energy
Energy usage is the biggest producer of carbon emissions in our homes. The switch to renewable energy is surprisingly easy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not so much about switching energy providers – instead, it’s about choosing the right tariff. Most companies will have ‘green’ tariffs. Picking a green tariff doesn’t mean that your entire energy supply will switch to renewable energy, since the UK operates from a nationwide network with multiple sources, but it does mean that your supplier will either invest in schemes to offset carbon emissions or retroactively buy renewable energy to fund future production. Green tariffs and their packages vary from supplier to supplier – the best thing you can do is research your energy provider’s offer or make the change to a new supplier with greener credentials. The more people make the switch to green tariffs, the more the energy industry will support renewable energy.
Go car-free or electric
The transport sector is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK – in 2019, it produced 27% of total emission. Petrol and diesel cars play a huge role in this. The faster we can reduce our use of cars, the sooner it will start taking pressure off the environment. Luckily, there are a number of ways to circumvent the problem around car ownership as there are undeniably hundreds of journeys that still require a car. One solution is to switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle. These produce virtually no emissions and are an excellent alternative for shorter trips. Schemes such as Karshare’s Lease and Share can make the switch to electric more affordable, through sharing. Alternatively, if you can envision parting with your car but still require on-demand access to a vehicle here and there, a peer-to-peer car sharing app could be a great solution. This enables you to find, book and unlock cars in your area using keyless technology so you can be on your way in no time and is far more affordable than paying for a vehicle to just sit in your driveway most of the time.
Switch up your diet
If going vegan fills you with dread, don’t worry. The easiest way to make long-lasting change is through small tweaks and tiny adjustments, like simply reducing your weekly meat intake. Meat and dairy accounts for almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, caused by a variety of factors including deforestation, methane emissions from cows and intensive farming. By opting for a plant-based diet once in a while, you could help lower your carbon footprint.
Stop buying fast fashion
The fashion industry is one of the most harmful industries on the planet. The production of new clothing itself expels more than the aviation industry and shipping industry combined – a whopping 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 annually. Due to chemical dyes used in production, it is also the second biggest polluter of water. But it is also the short life spans our items have in our closets that have a huge impact on emissions. By ending up in landfills or being incinerated, the waste produced by fast fashion is having devastating effects. If you want to lower your personal carbon footprint, try shopping second hand or seeking out more sustainable brands that produce clothing from recycled materials. The best thing to do, of course, is to buy nothing at all! You’re bound to have some hidden gems already hiding in your closet.
After not being able to travel for over a year, you might be tempted to jump on as many planes as you can to get away once restrictions ease. Though they’re an incredibly efficient way of getting from A to B, planes have an extremely high carbon footprint which is growing in size. The aviation industry is responsible for 5% of global warming, emitting hundreds of grams of CO2 for every kilometre per passenger. Short haul flights are the biggest culprit due to the large amount of energy required during takeoff and landing. Luckily there are several online tools that can help you plan a route that avoids the polluting flight – sites like Eco Passenger which helps you calculate your journey in emissions to make more informed decisions or Byway which offers package holidays that are flight-free. If you do have to get a plane, consider offsetting your emissions, avoiding layovers and packing light.
Reduce food waste
Aside from reducing your meat and dairy intake, reducing food waste is one of the greatest things you can do to lower your footprint. The reason food waste is so harmful is because it often ends up in landfills. In a home composting bin, food waste decomposes and turns back into soil, but in landfill it is broken down by bacteria which produces methane. There are so many ways to reduce your food waste, from shopping more regularly rather than in bulk to decreasing your meal sizes to reorganising your fridge according to use by dates. If you do create waste, it’s important to dispose of it correctly. The same goes for all your household waste – you can read our helpful guide to plastic disposal here.
Write to your MP
The demand for climate action and grip on carbon emissions has to make its way to the top. You can make your voice heard by joining a local climate group or writing to your MP to tell them about what’s important to you. Putting pressure on politicians and governments to take decisive action and commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key in preventing a climate disaster. Online tools like WriteToThem make it super easy to not only find your representative but contact them directly as well.