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Instead of just limiting your New Year’s resolutions to our own health, here are ways to make resolutions for a healthier environment in addition.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total of emissions caused by an individual, company, product or event. It is most often measured in tons of CO2. There are multiple carbon footprint calculators online, where you can calculate your emissions. These are, however, always estimates, as they use average values for their calculations. Despite that, it is still worth to try them out and see how much emissions are produced on average by various products or events.
Why is it important
Since we are all affected by global warming, it is important to understand the impact of our behavior on the environment. By taking a look at what contributes most to greenhouse gas emissions and what the alternatives are as well as their impact, we can make more informed decisions.
So without further ado, here are some ways to decrease your carbon footprint this year.
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle
In that order. While recycling is an important part of eco-friendly living, it inevitably causes carbon emissions in itself (such as by trucks and the energy needed for the recycling process). Swapping single-use items for reusable alternatives and generally buying less stuff is the most environmentally conscious choice.
2. Go plant-based
Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most impactful ways you can decrease your carbon emissions. According to Our World in Data, animal agriculture takes up almost 80% of global agriculture land, yet only provides 20% of the world’s supply of calories. In the production of meat as well as dairy, large amounts of CO2, nitrous oxides and methane is produced. Just 1 kg of beef produces about 60 kg of carbon dioxide, as opposed to 0,4 kg for 1 kg of root vegetables (according to Our World in Data).
3. Drive less
Another large impact can be made by reducing the amount of times you use your car. While a car-free year can save up to 2.6 tons of CO2, you may not have the option of leaving your car in the garage. While reducing the use already has an impact, carpooling and driving more efficiently can also save quite a bit of carbon emissions.
4. No more bottled water
Get yourself a well-made reusable water bottle which you can refill hundreds of times. Glass or stainless-steel bottles are the best options because they don’t discolor or take on odors like reusable plastic options do. Some stainless-steel bottles also keep your drink warm or cold for several hours. I love my Chilly water bottle because it keeps my water nice and cold, even in a hot car.
5. Turn the lights off & unplug
Turning off and unplugging appliances when not in use is a great way to save a bit of energy. To prevent yourself from having to plug-in/-out your devices regularly, use a power adapter to turn off multiple devices at once.
6. Delete old emails
This one may seem strange, but is another way to easily decrease your carbon footprint. All emails are stored on servers around the world. These massive servers require large amounts of electricity to run and most often that electricity comes from fossil fuel powered plants. By deleting spam and old emails, you require less storage and thus less servers are needed.
7. Shop second-hand
Not only is it cheaper, it’s also the most sustainable way to shop. There are multiple ways to purchase things second hand such as vintage or second-hand clothing stores, online marketplaces, flea markets and thrift stores in your area.
8. Bring a reusable bag
While single-use plastic bags, don’t make up a huge amount of carbon emissions in contrast to air travel or diet, it’s incredibly easy to prevent their use. Getting a few sturdy reusable shopping bags isn’t much effort but makes an important difference for the environment, especially the oceans.
9. Switch to a green energy provider
Most people don’t know how their energy provider sources their energy. Taking the time to do your research and possibly find a greener alternative to your current provider is an easy way to decrease your carbon footprint.
10. Fly less
Limiting flights, especially long-distance flights, is one of the most significant ways to decrease your carbon footprint. Swapping out a vacation to Thailand for a trip to a neighboring country or state can have a big impact. For example, a roundtrip from Vienna to Thailand has a carbon emission of 2.7 t and up to 2 ½ times as much, when flying first class.
If you cannot avoid flying, a direct flight is the better option, as a lot of emissions are produced particularly during take-off and landing. Choosing economy is also more carbon efficient because more people can be seated. Purchasing business or first-class tickets creates incentive for airlines to create more of them.
11. Plant something
Growing your own food and even having a few trees in your garden – if you have the space – is a great way to decrease your carbon footprint. But not all plants are equally beneficial. Choosing native species ensures food supply for wildlife and maintains important pollinator connections.
On top of that, using non-gasoline powered tools such as electric or human-powered lawn mowers is another way to decrease your carbon footprint. Installing a drip-irrigation system is not only more energy efficient but also better for your plants.
12. Get your bills via email
Lots of companies offer the switch to emailing bills as opposed to mailing them. If in doubt, ask them if this is something they provide.
The majority of people do not have the possibility to bike to work. In that case, telecommuting, even if only once a week, is a great way to decrease your carbon footprint.
14. Air-dry your clothes
The average tumble dryer produces around 1.8 kg of CO2 per cycle. Air-drying on the other hand produces 0 kg of CO2. If you cannot avoid it, limiting its use can already make an impact.
15. Get solar panels
If you have a house and can afford it, solar panels are a great way to get off the (fossil fuel-powered) grid or at least limit the amount of energy you are consuming from it. There are, however, substantial differences in quality. Since the production of solar panels creates carbon emissions as well, their estimated lifetime is an important factor to consider before purchasing.
16. Limit or boycott single use items
By boycotting single-use items whenever possible, you are avoiding the environmental impact of those items altogether. Keeping a reusable straw in your bag, a few reusable shopping bags in your home or car and taking a container with when picking up food, takes little effort but has a big impact over the years.
17. Do full loads of laundry
Despite the fact that newer washing machines can detect the amount of laundry and use the according amount of water, they still use quite a lot of energy and water for just 1 cycle. If you need a particular clothing piece urgently, you can always wash it by hand.
18. Compost food
If you have a garden, composting food scraps is a win-win situation. You don’t have to deal with disgusting soggy plastic bags and get nutrient-rich soil. Just be mindful of the things you throw onto your compost, to avoid attracting vermin. Never add any cooked food, dairy or meat products.
19. Support brands that are CO2 neutral or negative
By boycotting brands that have no real interest in creating a cleaner environment and supporting ones that do instead, you are directly influencing the industry and voting to create change.
20. Buy local and seasonal groceries
As mentioned, your diet can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint. Limiting or excluding animal products is already a great way to go, but it doesn’t have to end there. Instead of eating avocado-toast and banana-based smoothie-bowls several times a week, how about trading some of those meals in for e.g. some oatmeal topped with apples or fresh crusty bread with a lentil spread?
Bonus: Make up for your emissions
There are various websites where you can off-set your carbon footprint. This works by paying a small amount of money which in turn goes to environmental projects such as reforestation, creating habits for wildlife again, helping developing countries move to greener energy and so on.