Many people believe that it’s the big factories and congested freeways that contribute the most to the current climate crisis. The truth is, everything we do leaves a permanent mark on the atmosphere – a footprint. And everyone has one. Making coffee, driving, buying food, flying, it all contributes to the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere and, by effect, creates the issues we face with global warming.
So what do we do? Stop buying food? Stop drinking coffee? For most coffee drinkers, that would be a major problem, and no one wants to see what happens when global warming pushes people into caffeine withdrawals. That could get ugly.There are, however, a number of practical things we can do to reduce our individual carbon footprint. (Don’t worry, you can keep your coffee.)
Step One: Drive less.
As far as individual carbon footprint goes, driving is hands down the single largest contributor to a person’s carbon footprint (unless you fly a lot – that’s another issue entirely). The average driver puts about four tons of carbon waste into the environment each year. That’s if you drive a fuel efficient vehicle. For a SUV driver, the output is nearly three times that amount. The simplest way to cut back on carbon emissions from driving is to drive less. With most people commuting at least 20 miles to work or school, eliminating the need to drive just isn’t practical, but by making a conscious effort to reduce your vehicle time, you can reduce your vehicle’s carbon footprint.
• Reduce the number of trips you take. Instead of running random errands throughout the week, designate one day errand day and get it all done in one shot.
• See if your workplace will let you switch to a four day work week. Cutting one day of driving a week can reduce your carbon waste by 20 percent.
• Drive when you know there won’t be traffic. The less time you actually spend on the road, the less carbon emissions your vehicle releases.
• On the days you do have to drive to work, find a co-worker to carpool with. You drive less, and you help someone else reduce their carbon footprint.
• Whenever you can, ride your bike, walk or use public transportation.
• If you are a frequent flier, reduce the number of flights you take. By cutting back on three flights a year, you can reduce your carbon footprint by five tons. That’s like completely eliminating the carbon footprint created from a year’s worth of driving. In the era of technology, opt for a video conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.
Step Two: Turn the lights off.
Ninety-eight percent of the electricity we use in our homes is generated from non-renewable resources, which means eventually they are going to run out. The demand for non-renewable resources like coal and natural gas creates a huge carbon footprint. If we all turned the lights off before leaving the room or unplugged appliances and electronics when they are not in use, we could relieve a huge strain on the demand. It sounds really easy, but the tricky part is making a habit of turning the lights. For people like me, who have possible undiagnosed attention issues, it might take a couple of astronomical utility bills to realize how much flipping the switch can make a difference for a person’s carbon footprint and the monthly budget.
Here are a few more ways to reduce your carbon footprint by cutting energy use at home:
• Don’t use your dryer unless you have to. In fact, when you’re not using it, unplug it. When you do use the dryer, clean the lint trap every time.
• Replace your incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) or Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). They cost a little more, but they last longer and cut energy consumption by 88 percent.
• Set the temperature in your refrigerator between 36-38 degrees and your freezer between 0-5 degrees. If you’re in the market for a new unit, make sure it’s Energy Star approved.
• If you’re not using your electronics, unplug them too. Even in stand-by mode, home electronics can account for ten percent of home energy use.
Step Three: Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Recycling paper, plastic and aluminum is easy. You separate your trash from your recyclables and, in most cities, the same company that takes away your garbage has a crew to take away your recyclable goods as well. You can reduce your carbon footprint even more by going beyond the basic recycled items and finding creatives ways to recycle by reusing.
• Planet Green has 14 uses for old phone books that go a little bigger than just tossing the yellow pages in the recycling bin. My favorite: cover it in fabric and make a booster seat.
• Instead of throwing milk jugs away, use them to store seeds for your garden or as a water spout.
• If you frequently chow down on Asian cuisine, hang on to your used chopsticks. You can use them to stake out your garden or as knitting needles. If you collect them for long enough you could build a life size canoe.
• America’s electronic waste accounts for millions of tons of the trash that ends up in landfills each year. Make sure to recycle your electronics or dispose of them responsibly!
Step Four: Shop smart.
You could also buy locally, but if the local selection leaves something to be desired and you’re not much of a green thumb, you can still reduce your carbon footprint at your community supermarket. You just have to spend a little more time considering what you buy.
• Stay away from the freezer section and the canned foods. Packaging for the pre-prepared items takes a lot of energy. Stick to fresh fruits and veggies as much as possible. Check to see where they’re from. If you’re worried about them going bad before you get a chance to use them up- preserve them yourself and save them for later.
• If you can avoid buying dairy products, do so. Milk and cheese take a lot of energy – you have to take good care of the cow to get it to produce dairy. Just about anything you can buy as far as dairy goes, has a alternative dairy-free substitute. Non-dairy items last longer in your fridge and are often better for you.
• Buy in bulk. Less packaging means less waste. You can portion the items out when you get home and save a bit of money investing in the industrial size.
• Try going vegan (or vegetarian). You can make it lifestyle change or just commit to not eating meat a few days a week. A weekday vegetarian can cut their carbon footprint by nearly a ton each year. Someone who makes the switch to go vegan can cut up to two tons of carbon waste annually.
Step Five: Choose neither paper nor plastic.
A trip to the grocery store leaves most shoppers with a big dilemma – do you want to pack your items in paper or plastic bags? Both add to your carbon footprint, especially if you don’t recycle of reuse them. Thankfully, you have another option- bring your own bags. Reusable shopping bags are more popular than ever and often come with all kinds of incentives from money back to reward points. The trick to using reusables to reduce your carbon footprint is remembering to use them. Here’s a few tips to keeping track of your reusable bags so you don’t leave home with out them:
• Every time you come home from shopping, make it a habit to unload your groceries and immediately put your bags back in your vehicle or hang them on your door knob. Don’t wait and dash or you’ll forget.
• Set an alarm on your mobile phone or PDA to remind yourself not to forget. Or cover your dashboard, rear view mirror, hatch back and gear shift with Post-it reminders.
• If you make a grocery list before you go shopping, add “Remember Your Bags” to the top of your list.
• Make a statement. Purchase really bright-colored reusable bags so you will actually like carrying them around. Trader Joe’s offers cool prints on their really inexpensive bags.
• Build up a collection of reusable bags, so you’ll have enough even if you’re buying mass quantities of groceries. That way you won’t end up with a plastic bag because you ran out.
• Try this reusable bag that scrunches up into a convenient keychain. That way you’ll always have it with you!
Step Six: Stop breathing.
The reality is to zero out your carbon you would have stop breathing because even recycled oxygen creates carbon dioxide. Not in the same way cars and trucks and factories do, but you get the idea. It’s impossible to eliminate your carbon footprint, but taking steps to reduce your impact on the environment starts with being aware of what kind of footprint you are making now.
• There are some great web-based resources to help you estimate the impact you are currently and help you find other practical ways to cut back.
• Nature.org has a great carbon calculator to help determine the carbon footprint for your entire household.
• Ready to test your carbon knowledge and see if you have the prowess to cut back on your carbon footprint? Check out Planet Green’s Curb Your Carbon Quiz.
Originally posted on Causecast.org.