Many of you already know the answer, but in case you’re wondering why you might want to reduce your carbon footprint, here are just a few of the many reasons. Rising temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, mega fires, severe flooding and more extreme storms are all attributed to human-driven increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Europe experienced severe heat and devastating fires last year, and severe flooding last summer destroyed crops in many countries as we recently shared in our blog on Climate Change and Food Security. If you’ve been watching recent events you know that California is battling record rainfall--the effects of which are worsened by extremely dry soil from the state’s decades long drought.
Luckily, it’s easy to reduce your carbon footprint and help combat climate change, and if everyone makes even a small effort, the combined impact can be huge.
What is a carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that is generated by you or your activities. Nearly everything we do increases CO2 emissions, whether it’s driving our car, buying food that was driven to the store we shop in or buying clothing or a gadget that was manufactured then shipped to our country (and maybe even subsequently shipped to our home).
Benefits of reducing your carbon footprint
Reducing your carbon footprint is an immediate way for you to take personal ownership of your contribution to climate change, while mitigating the effects of climate change and contributing to a healthier water supply and improved air quality.
Climate change mitigation: People often think there’s little they can do to directly impact climate change, but that’s simply not true. If one in five people living on this planet made small reductions in their carbon footprint, the net impact would be massive. Every person can contribute to the reduction of climate change impacts.
Many people don’t realize that increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 mean greater levels of CO2 in our oceans and lakes which increases the acidity of water. This acidification is particularly harmful to shellfish, but it’s already impacting all ocean ecosystems and many freshwater lakes around the world.
Better health: CO2 emissions directly and indirectly negatively impact the health of our planet and every living thing on it. Because CO2 emissions increase temperature and humidity, they increase the formation of smog which adversely affects the respiratory health of all living creatures. Heat and stagnant air created by climate change increase the risk of unhealthyunhealthly ozone levels. Hotter temperatures and less rainfall increase the risk of drought and wildfires—both of which increase particle pollution, a major aggravator of respiratory health.
How to reduce your carbon footprint at home
The following tips will help you reduce your carbon footprint at home. Since we spend so much time in our homes, many of us may be leaving carbon footprints behind we’re unaware of.
1. Do an energy audit of your home
Having an energy audit conducted for your home can save you money on your electricity bill while helping fight climate change. During a typical audit, the energy auditor will analyze your heating and cooling systems—checking for efficiency and possible leakage), your insulation (not just in the main portion of your home but also in the attic and basement if you have them, and your windows to check if their sills are leaking and if they’re high-efficiency and/or double-paned, etc. These assessments provide details about energy-saving devices and can also suggest insulation and other improvements for energy efficiency. Many municipalities and utilities, along with the Federal Government through the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, are now offering generous rebates if you take measures to make your home more energy efficient.
2. Buy organic and local products
When you buy local products—particularly produce, it means less carbon was emitted because the produce didn’t have to be shipped or driven as far. (Produce that needs to be kept cool during transport means more CO2 emissions are being generated by the cooling and not just the transport.) Buying organic also helps because it means the food wasn’t grown using chemicals produced in factories which emit carbon. It also means fewer chemicals are washing off farmland into our rivers, lakes and oceans.
3. Upgrade the lighting in your home
Many of us swapped out traditional incandescent lightbulbs, such as halogen bulbs, for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) in recent years. But to further reduce your electricity usage, lower your electricity costs and reduce emissions, LEDs are the way to go. Most LED bulbs use a quarter of the energy of CFLs. And don’t forget to switch off lights that aren’t being used and power down devices when they’re not in use. Even shutting off power surge protection strips when you aren’t using the devices plugged into it, can save power.
4. Recycle waste
Recycling your waste is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and water pollutants, and saves energy. Using recovered material generates less solid waste and keeps more waste out of our landfills. Recycling also helps reduce the pollution caused by the extraction and processing of virgin materials. Recycle everything you can and try buying products made from recycled materials. Avoid buying disposal items and buy reusable products whenever possible.
5. Plant trees in your garden or yard
As part of photosynthesis, trees absorb CO2 out of the air and store it in their wood, and they release oxygen back into the air which we need to breathe. Trees and plants store CO2 for their entire lives—for many generations in many cases, which helps slow the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere. Bigger, older trees store more carbon, so it’s important to preserve the trees we have in addition to planting more young trees. Trees also provide cooling shade which helps counter our warming Earth.
How to reduce your carbon footprint at work
It’s estimated people spend one-third of their life at work or roughly the equivalent of 90,000 hours. Therefore, it’s important to take steps to reduce your carbon footprint at work, too.
6. Use public transportation, carpool, or even bike to work
Transportation is considered the largest source of climate pollution in the United States. The air pollutants generated by gas or diesel cause asthma, cancer, bronchitis, and premature death. Using public transportation reduces carbon emissions by 30 to 45 percent, carpooling means fewer cars on the road, hence less carbon emitted and walking and biking have the added benefit of being good for your health in addition to the environment. Even though electric vehicles (EVs) emit more carbon during their manufacture than combustion vehicles, EVs make up for those emissions in less than 18 months of driving and continue to be far better for the environment for the remainder of their use even if they’re charged by the dirtiest sources of electricity. Nearly every major car manufacturer has or is coming out soon with EV options, so if you’re in the market for a new car, choose electric!
7. Avoid unnecessary printing
Most documents, emails and reports exist in the Cloud and don’t need to be printed. Reducing, reusing and recycling at work can reduce your carbon footprint. If possible, opt for emails or digital methods to disseminate information, print double-sided if you need to print, and recycle paper whenever possible.
Other ways to reduce your carbon footprint
8. Don’t buy fast fashion
A whopping 85 percent of clothing ends up in landfills and the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing each year. Just like with paper use, you can use the reduce, reuse and recycle approach to fashion which means buying fewer but better quality pieces of clothing, donating or reselling unwanted items, and buying second-hand. Another reason not to buy fast fashion is that most of it is shipped from countries far away from the U.S. and requires the use of fossil fuels to get to the store and more to get to our homes.
9. Use reusable bags
Each year, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags, the equivalent of 12 million barrels of crude oil! Plastic bags take approximately 300 years to degrade and during the process, they break down into tiny toxic particles that get into our soils and water where they’re ingested by animals and become part of our food chain. Carrying reusable bags with you and rejecting store bags (even paper ones) can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
10. Reduce your air travel
If you fly, the emissions generated by your flight(s) are likely the largest contributor to your carbon footprint. An estimated 850 million tons of CO2 emissions are attributable to air travel each year. If you must travel or are a natural wanderlust, try to limit how many flights you take a year, fly nonstop since landings and takeoff use more fuel, and consider buying carbon offsets for your flights. If you travel for work, rethink how often you travel and how essential trips are or whether some trips could be replaced by video conferencing.
Empowered by Light's conservation efforts
Empowered by Light helps fight climate change by helping communities displace diesel and/or leapfrog fossil fuels all together by going from no access to electricity to renewable energy in the same way many developing nations went from having no telephone service to cellular without ever having landlines and all the transmission infrastructure installed. Learn more about the projects that EBL has completed and get involved.