How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint The Easy Way: A Simple Guide

A foot surrounded by trash, pollution, and forest fires representing a carbon footprint.

Nowadays, you don’t have to be a climate scientist to have heard of a carbon footprint.

When it’s mentioned, it may fill you with feelings of dread or anxiety related to climate change.

The good news is there are ways in which we can reduce our everyday impacts as individuals, families, and communities.

It all starts with being aware of the implications of our lives, unearthing the links between our consumption habits and the resources required to sustain our lifestyles.

The best way to start learning is through experience; which is why you need to know how to reduce your carbon footprint within your everyday life.

What exactly is a carbon footprint?

Carbon footprints measure the amount of greenhouse gasses released through human activities.

As a tool of measurement, it’s especially relevant as people and corporations alike are taking stock of their impact on the environment and their role in the fight against climate change.

Measuring carbon footprints can be done at different scales, from that of an individual, a corporation, a nation, or even the whole world. It’s usually expressed in metric tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).

But calculating your carbon footprint isn’t always as straightforward as it seems, as different methods of measurement lead to vastly different results.

For example, “territorial emissions” measure the emissions produced within a territory, whereas “consumption emissions” considers who is responsible for the emissions, no matter where they’re produced.

This is highly relevant in today’s economy where globally traded goods are omnipresent – so tracing the story behind our emissions is crucial.

Why should you reduce your carbon footprint?

Nearly all greenhouse gas emissions released since the late 1980’s have been emitted by a small handful of around 100 organizations. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that carbon emissions are a systemic issue.

Some of the worst offenders are, of course, fossil fuel and cement producers like the companies arranged below.

top carbon emissions companies
Image by Carbon Visuals via Flickr

To top it off, in general there’s been a problematic history of using carbon footprints to divert attention away from unsustainable business models that produce emissions at massive scales, shifting the blame onto individuals instead.

British Petroleum (BP) first came up with the idea of an individual carbon footprint within devious advertising campaigns.

Nevertheless, there are compelling reasons to look at this problem from an individual perspective (and at this point it’s a widely used term even within the sustainability industry).

You have more agency than you think, and every action has consequences on the environment as well as the wellbeing of future generations, no matter how mundane.

Beyond mitigating climate change, reducing your personal footprint comes with countless and perhaps more immediately observable benefits that include healthier lifestyles, a safer home, and money savings.

How can you measure yours?

Well meaning individuals often make poor choices when it comes to adopting low-carbon lifestyles – this is where carbon footprints come in.

Measuring your footprint can help shine a light on areas in your life where you can make the most impactful changes, and help you avoid focusing on actions that aren’t necessarily effective.

An endless variety of calculators have emerged online, with popular options such as the user-friendly calculator by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), or the CoolClimate Calculator by UC Berkeley, a more comprehensive option optimized for US residents.

cool climate calculator

These can help you comb through your lifestyle, with different levels of detail involved.

In order to calculate your personal footprint, you’ll need to have a rough idea of the following:

  • How much you travel by car, bus, train, or plane
  • How much energy you use at home and the source of that energy
  • Your diet of choice
  • Your shopping habits

The best ways to reduce your carbon footprint

With all that in mind, here’s a list of practical and meaningful ways to reduce your carbon footprint that work (without breaking the bank), mainly falling within three categories:

  • Your home
  • Your diet
  • Your everyday life

Insulate your home

Ensuring that your home retains heat during winters and stays cool in summer means a reduction in energy consumption, which is a massive component of your average carbon footprint.

Sustainable and cost-efficient ways to do so include using natural fibers to insulate walls, installing a green roof, or planting native vegetation around your home.

Switch to at-home renewables

It’s easier than ever to find energy providers that offer greener options that harness electricity and heat from renewable sources available in your area.

neighborhood solar panels
Image by Eneco Group via Flickr

Alternatively, you can take things to the next level and produce your own energy by installing solar powered panels or wind turbines – although this comes at a higher cost.

Check your home for energy efficiency

Boost your energy efficiency with some simple changes, such as using energy-saving LED light bulbs, and smart tech that minimizes unnecessary energy consumption such as motion-sensing lights.

Replacing old appliances with more efficient ones and scheduling regular maintenance can also make a substantial difference.

Consider going vegan

Dairy and meat (especially red meat) are the two biggest culprits behind the tremendous carbon footprint caused by food production.

Researchers from Oxford University estimate that these emissions could be slashed in half if the whole world decided to go vegan; and while that might not be realistic, introducing plant-based alternatives just one day a week can lead to substantial results.

And it’s not like you have to give up your favorite items nowadays, with the rise of plant based meat brands and the promising future of lab grown meats.

Eating insects is another popular trend that’s growing each year, and while it’s not considered vegan you may be interested in trying it out.

Eat local

Embrace local and sustainable agriculture by avoiding food that reaches you via a long and carbon-intensive supply chain.

Benefits of locally grown food include reducing “food miles” and the energy consumption that comes with them, along with the opportunity to support local businesses and communities.

Waste less food

Following all these dietary tips is pretty much useless if you’re wasting food in huge amounts.

food waste emissions

Backyard composting is one free and easy solution to food waste, helping reduce landfill methane emissions and supporting local farms. Figuring out what is compostable and what not to compost is the most basic step you’ll need to take.

Other solutions include planning your meals out well and avoiding bulk purchases that may lead to overbuying. You could also learn how to start a garden, if you’re looking to hone your own green thumb!

Eliminate single-use items

Things like plastic cups, paper bags, disposable cutlery, and take-out containers are super common and frankly, super convenient.

But convenience often comes with invisible costs, so swap these with reusable water bottles, food containers and bags – and use them!

Learning how to reduce your plastic use is one of the most important parts of lowering your overall ecological footprint, as it actively lowers the profits of the fossil fuel industry.

Avoid cheap and harmful skincare products

It’s possible to have a sustainable skincare routine that works for your specific skin type, while also avoiding cheaply made products packaged in plastic.

The reality is, most skincare brands are only able to sell their products at such low prices because they’re filled with petrochemicals and other harmful ingredients.

Don’t support fast fashion

Poorly constructed clothes that are mass produced come with high environmental and socioeconomic costs.

Avoiding clothes produced in unsustainable ways or those made of carbon-intensive materials synthetic materials such as plastic can help shrink your footprint and make sure you’re not funding harmful business practices.

Buy less, reuse more

Your old and unwanted stuff could be someone else’s treasure.

Buying second hand and donating old but usable things are easy habits you can incorporate in your daily life – and it will introduce you to a thriving circular economy while saving you money in the process.

Recycle when possible

While recycling isn’t the silver bullet many think it is, ensuring that your trash ends up in the right place can be achieved through good habits.

Checking what’s recyclable in your local area, cleaning food containers before recycling them, and buying goods that come packaged in recyclable materials are great ways to start.

Also, keep in mind that plastic recycling is largely ineffective. And on that note, be careful when supporting biodegradable bioplastics, as their claims are often much more impressive than the reality of their true sustainability.

Commute with others

Collective forms of travel are more sustainable, as the carbon burden is shared between a much greater number of people; this includes public transport, carpooling, and other alternatives such as cycling.

communal transportation emissions
Image by S. H. Darlin via Flickr

While this will all depend on how sustainable your city is, taking a deep dive into the public transportation and communal options available to you is one of the most impactful things you can do.

Switch to electric vehicles (EVs)

We all know that EVs are responsible for considerably less emissions, but the real solution is for all of us to drive less and produce less cars.

So instead of rushing to buy an electric vehicle, think about it: do you really need one? While less realistic in places like the US, cycling is another great alternative to using a car.

Fly less

This is one of the most radically effective ways of reducing your carbon footprint.

Three years of recycling can be negated by a return flight from London to Berlin, so if you must fly, then avoid lay-overs and long-hauls.

flight carbon footprint

Offset your emissions

This can be done by investing and funding charities and sustainable projects of your choice, or by going through marketplaces such as the United Nations Carbon Offset Platform, or South Pole.

Newer platforms such as CarbonX and One Tribe go beyond basic tree-planting to include geoengineering and clean tech, along with nature-based offsets such as forest regeneration.

Schemes vary widely in terms of pricing but “neutralizing” a tonne of CO₂ will typically cost around $20, depending on the approach you take.

Support systemic change

Beyond personal actions, why not direct your energy towards tackling issues at the source?

If you’re someone struggling to deal with feelings of climate grief, one of the better ways to begin working through those feelings is by taking action!

One huge change you could make that directly impacts large scale change would be using your existing skills (or learning some new ones) and exploring careers within renewable energy. It’s not just engineers and other scientists that are in high demand, pretty much any skillset can contribute to the rapidly growing green energy movement!

Voting is a high-impact action that can make a real dent in emissions, and you can raise awareness by talking to friends and family, or by moving your assets to banks and investment funds that don’t support the fossil fuel industry.

Final thoughts

Climate change is overwhelming, but your individual choices do matter.

It can be hard to connect the dots between melting glaciers and your everyday life, and this reinforces feelings of hopelessness experienced by many across the world.

Aligning your values with your actions is empowering, both personally and for those around you who might be inspired to do the same.

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