SEP 8, 2021 Article

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

There's no way around it, everyone has a carbon footprint. Businesses, vehicles, and individuals all produce emissions (greenhouse gases) that affect the Earth's atmosphere. As consumers, the products and services we buy have a carbon footprint too. While there are some things we can't control, like driving our cars to pick up the kids from school or buying essential items at the grocery store, there are ways to reduce or offset the emissions that we contribute to on a daily basis.

What Exactly Is a Carbon Footprint?

Carbon footprint is defined as the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the earth's atmosphere due to your activities. Even though it's called a carbon footprint, it doesn't just include carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) also include methane gas, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Individuals produce a carbon footprint but so do companies, services, and products.

Why Is It Important to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Reducing our carbon footprint helps to decrease global warming - with the end goal being to reverse its effects completely. It may seem like a stretch that our daily habits have an impact on a large-scale event like climate change, but they absolutely do.

A perfect example of how groups of people can reverse pollution and climate change is the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions in big cities resulted in less traffic on the roads, which reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, cities like Los Angeles saw a noticeable improvement in air quality and a reduction of the notorious smog that LA residents are used to seeing every day. The collective actions of individuals to reduce their carbon footprint, even indirectly, can result in global changes.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

Now that you know why it's important to reduce your carbon footprint, how do you get started? The first thing you need to do is calculate your current footprint. The average carbon footprint for a single American is believed to be around 16 tons per year, but there are carbon footprint calculators that take your individual lifestyle into account.

Many factors that go into calculating your carbon footprint, but these are the most common contributors:

  • Travel Miles - The type of car you own and the number of travel miles you incur each year is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Air travel is also included in that calculation.

  • Energy Use in your Home - The size of your home, your electricity usage, use of natural gas and other heating oils, and water consumption contribute to your overall footprint.

  • Food and Diet - Your diet has a direct impact on your carbon footprint. Production of meat, fish, and eggs results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than what is produced by growing most fruits and vegetables.

  • Shopping Expenditure - Even your shopping habits affect emissions. The types of products and services you buy, and how often, is considered your shopping carbon footprint.

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Little changes add up! If you want to start reducing your carbon footprint, there are easy ways to adjust your lifestyle to make that happen.

1. Change Your Driving Habits

You may not have the cash flow to go out and buy an electric car, but that's OK because you don't need one to reduce your footprint. Try incorporating some of these new habits into your routine:

  • Carpooling - Start a work carpooling group. You'll save money on gas and reduce the number of cars on the road.

  • Take the Bus - Leave the car in the garage for the weekend and take advantage of your city's public transportation.

  • Don't Speed - Putting your car on cruise control and maintaining a consistent speed helps to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust fumes.

  • Keep Your Tires Inflated - This very simple trick actually helps you get better mileage and makes your car more fuel-efficient.

2. Reuse and Upcycle

Today, you don't have to sift through endless racks at the thrift store to buy thrifted items. It's easier than ever to buy and sell used merchandise online. When you change your shopping habits to include more reused and upcycled items, you help reduce the emissions caused by the provision of goods, which accounts for a large portion of total greenhouse gases.

  • Used Books - If you're one of those people who loves the feel of a physical book in your hands, try buying used copies instead of brand new copies.

  • Consignment Shops - Instead of tossing out old furniture and clothing, work with a local consignment shop to sell your unwanted items. You can reduce your carbon footprint and make some extra money doing it.

  • Social Media Marketplaces - You would be surprised by how many free items are listed on social media marketplaces. Many people are willing to haul away your large unwanted items, which is convenient for you and keeps items out of the landfill.

3. Modify Your Diet

Not all of us can make drastic changes to our lifestyle and stick with it for the long term. Instead, it helps to make small changes that are more realistic for the average person. Adding more plant-based foods to your diet and reducing meat consumption by a small fraction is doable for most people.

  • Meatless Mondays - Giving up meat for one day a week has become a common practice for many households.

  • Find the Veggies You Enjoy - Instead of forcing yourself to eat vegetables you hate, try to find a few veggies that you enjoy and stick with those. Kale might not be your thing, but maybe you enjoy broccoli.

  • Try a Smoothie - Try replacing a meal here or there with a fruit smoothie. It's a great way to sneak in multiple servings of fruit.

4. Conserve Energy at Home

There are small changes you can make around your home that add up to a big impact on your energy use and your wallet.

  • Turn Off the Lights - Dad was right! Turning off lights, lamps, and even unplugging your electrical devices reduces your energy use and your electric bill.

  • Wash Clothes with Cold Water - Using the cold cycle on your washing machine is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Hot water requires more energy to heat and it's also harsher on fabrics, which leads to you replacing worn-out clothing items more often.

  • Put On a Sweater - Instead of cranking the thermostat when the temps start to drop, keep your heat set to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit while you're home. Put on some layers if that's too chilly for you.

5. Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting isn't just for big businesses. There are ways that individuals can use carbon offsetting to reduce their personal carbon footprint.

  • Tree Planting Initiatives - Buy from companies that plant trees with every purchase. Reforestation is one component to offsetting carbon emissions because mature trees absorb carbon dioxide.

  • Carbon Offset Credits - To offset the carbon emissions you can't help, you can purchase credits that support projects to reduce greenhouse gases.

  • Support Carbon-Neutral Companies - Look for companies that have made pledges to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, or carbon neutrality.

You don't have to be an eco-warrior to reduce your carbon footprint. There are small lifestyle changes you can make that add up to a big impact in the world around you. Keep this in mind as you go about your daily life and look for other ways to lower your personal footprint.

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