How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home
We’ve got something big to discuss: your carbon footprint.
By “your” carbon footprint, we mean “our” carbon footprint, because it’s something we all need to work on.
If everyone lived like an American, we would need 4.1 Earths. 3D printing is impressive but it ain’t planet-producing impressive.
With the holidays coming up and the synonymous urge to consume, there has never been a more important time to talk about how to reduce, starting with learning how to reduce your carbon footprint.
If we collectively reduce our carbon footprint, carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere might actually slow down, minimizing ice melt, keeping sea level rise down and our planet habitable for future generations.
If we don’t do something, the planet will continue warming and you all know how that ends…
So you, yes you, let’s get on with some tips for how to personally reduce your carbon footprint.
*This post contains affilate links
QUICK LINKS FOR HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT AT HOME
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: TRAVEL
1. FLY LESS
Flying is cheaper than ever these days. Since the late 1970’s, the cost of airfare has dropped by around 50%.
By 2035, it’s anticipated 7.2 billion people will reach cruising altitudes.
With cheaper prices comes more accessibility. Before, visiting that long-lost aunt across the country was too burdensome. Now it’s as easy as a few clicks.
While it’s great to connect with loved ones and explore the world, our planet is picking up the extra baggage costs. Air travel accounts for 3.5% of total global contributions to climate change.
We’re all Zoom experts now so instead of zooming across the country for a work meeting, joining the board room digitally could save a whole lot of carbon emissions. In other words, if we decided to stay home instead (within reason), we could help minimize the global impact of air travel.
If staying home is impossible, we can still make improvements:
- Consider another mode of transport. Taking a train could be a new and exciting way to minimize emissions and see new places. There is something to be said for taking the slow, scenic route.
- Offset your impact. If the airline doesn’t offer a built-in option to make a donation to a sustainable project, you can buy your own offsets from some the best carbon offset providers.
- Skip the free bubbly and choose an economy seat. On average, a first class ticket costs the earth around four times as many emissions as an economy seat due to the extra weight from the seat.
2. LOOK FOR TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES
Cars are responsible for much of these emissions—around half or more of total transport emissions in both countries. Airplanes, along with trains, boats, ships, and freight trucks, make up the remaining half.
Simply put, we’re traveling more these days (well, pre-2020, anyway), and there are more people on the road and in the air than ever before.
The biggest way we could reduce our travel footprint is to consider the alternatives:
- Ask yourself if the trip is essential. This doesn’t just mean flights. Do you really need to go to the grocery store today, or can you wait and do it on the weekend when you already have to run another errand?
- Is there another way to get to your destination? Can you safely walk or ride your bike? Is public transportation an option? Can you carpool?
- Are you heading into rush hour traffic? Is there a way you can wait at the office until the traffic subsides? Being stuck in traffic is not only an unnecessary waste of gas, money, and time, but it also emits unnecessary emissions.
- Can you work from home more often? Post 2020, it’s likely many more people will have more flexibility to work from home (here’s hoping). If you can work from home, this would significantly reduce your day to day transport emissions. Although be sure to think through your home energy strategy.
3. MAINTAIN YOUR RIDE
For some, ditching a car altogether simply isn’t possible. If driving is an essential part of your daily routine, you can:
- Invest in a low carbon vehicle. A hybrid or electric vehicle will emit less CO2 emissions, especially if you live in an area that uses cleaner energy. You may even be eligible for an EPA tax incentive.
- Steer clear of SUVs. If you don’t need a big car, don’t get one. Not only do they have poor fuel efficiency, many big vehicles also run on diesel and diesel engines produce 13% more greenhouse gas emissions per gallon. If you only want the extra space for a weekend adventure every once in a while, opt for a cargo rack or pop-up rooftop tent instead.
- Slow down. Unnecessarily speeding or slowing down can reduce your mileage by around 33%. More specifically, every 5 mph over 60 mph decreases a car’s gas mileage by 7%.
- Keep your car maintained. Proper maintenance (i.e. using the right motor oil and fixing faulty parts) keeps your car running more efficiently. Keeping your tires properly inflated helps, too.
- Use cruise control on the highway. It not only makes long haul drives more relaxing but it regulates fuel consumption.
- Offset. Once again, you can offset any road travel through some providers. MyClimate has a great feature that allows you to calculate and offset your travel, even by car. We’ve found this especially useful for offsetting big holiday trips.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: FOOD
4. EAT LESS MEAT AND DAIRY
The way we produce and consume food needs a overhaul. One of the most important realizations in recent years is that animal agriculture has a serious impact on our planet.
A 2019 report from The Lancet came to a daunting conclusion: in order for us to “remain within a safe operating space,” global consumption of red meat needs to drop by 50% by 2050.
While red meat was caught red handed, animal agriculture as a whole (including dairy) is responsible for 14.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, over twice that of any other kind of meat.
One pound of beef creates 25 pounds of CO2 and uses 2,500 gallons of water (the equivalent of six months of showers for the average US person).
Eating lower down on the food chain is better for us and the planet. Here’s how you can do exactly that:
- Try to incorporate more plant-based protein, like beans, legumes, and tofu.
- If you can, swap a few meat meals with vegetarian or vegan ones. If only ⅓ of Americans adopted Meatless Mondays for one year (just ONE DAY of not eating meat per week), it would be the equivalent of removing 1.6 million cars from the road.
- Eat smaller portions of meat and compensate with more veggies, fruits, and whole grains. The human body can only process 30 grams of protein in a sitting (the rest are wasted calories), equivalent to only about 4 ounces of meat. That makes that 16 ounce ribeye on the menu at your favorite restaurant seem pretty unnecessary, doesn’t it?.
- Try a plant-based beverage alternative to cow’s milk. Or try kombucha or Coconut yoghurt for some gut healthy probiotics instead of traditional yogurt.
- If meat is still on the menu, aim for chicken or (wild-caught) fish instead of lamb or beef. Another option is choosing regenerative agriculture where grass eating animals help restore soil quality, supporting carbon drawdown.
5. PUT YOUR FOOD WASTE IN CHECK
If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (not to mention a horrendous waste of money).
Fortunately, keeping food out of the trash requires just a bit of thought and creativity:
- Take inventory. Before heading to the grocery store, see what you already have. Then, stick to your list (avoid those carefully placed cookies vying for your attention).
- Creatively incorporate leftovers. Instead of letting your leftovers live in the back of your fridge, turn them into a new and improved meal. Add some extra veggies, rice, or eggs to whip up a creative culinary feast.
- Use your freezer. Most foods can be frozen (including meat), extending their life for several weeks to months.
- Develop thoughtful taste buds. Meal for one? Don’t prepare six servings. Don’t have certain ingredients? See if you can substitute them with something else. Craving a cooking session but already have leftovers? Eat what you have first.
- Use food scraps to make veggie stock. Here’s an excellent guide from our friends at Reusable Nation.
6. EAT LOCALLY AND WITH THE SEASONS
Most food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate.
Eating seasonally usually means eating locally, both of which are better from health and environmental standpoints.
Seasonal food typically doesn’t require as many chemicals and pesticides and local food doesn’t travel as far. Supporting local farmers through a farmer’s market, cooperative market, CSA, or food buying group also helps to support your local economy.
Local, seasonal food simply tastes better and is typically much fresher, too.
7. BUY IN BULK
The world’s obsession with plastic means an emissions contribution of nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 every year.
Plastic food packaging can be hard to avoid, but it is possible when you buy your food in bulk. More and more local shops around the world now offer bulk options.
This can include dry pantry staples (lile grains, teas, nuts, seeds, coffee, and snacks), liquid cooking essentials (like oils, nut butters, and kombucha), beauty and personal products, and cleaners.
Just BYO jar to fill and refill. No plastic required.
If you can’t find a local shop or don’t have an organic chain store (like Whole Foods) near you, look into online bulk stores.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: SHOPPING
8. ADOPT A MINIMALIST MINDSET
Being a minimalist is so in these days.
For good reason, too. Minimalism creates space to enjoy the truly important things, and minimizes your impact in the process.
The less you consume, the less you waste.
You don’t necessarily need to sell everything and move into a tiny house (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt).
Here are a few small ways we can all adopt a minimalist mindset:
- Figure out what’s really important to you. Sounds simple, but this is probably the hardest one. If Marie Kondo’s philosophy resonates with you, take a look around and ask yourself, “What sparks joy?”
- Set some rules. Where do you want to cut down? In your home? With your online shopping habits? In your wardrobe? With your daily coffee purchases?
- Organize. Without knowing what you already have, it’s more difficult to know what you need—or don’t need.
- Ponder it. Instead of quickly hitting that “Add to Cart” button, sleep on it and then ask yourself some questions: Could you live without the item? Do you already have something like it? Is it worth the impact (financial and otherwise)? Can you borrow or buy secondhand?
- Don’t let holidays bring out the worst in you. A minimalist mindset is especially important around the holidays when you’re bombarded with sales and the pressure to buy your sister twelve individually-wrapped presents because she did the same last year. Avoid a holiday shopping addiction by giving meaning experiences or zero waste or minimalist gifts instead.
9. AVOID FAST FASHION
At 10% of annual global carbon emissions, the fashion industry is responsible for a carbon footprint higher than international flights and shipping combined.
When it comes to sustainable fashion, there’s no better advice than to wear-wash-repeat (and repair if necessary). In other words, only buy something when it’s absolutely necessary.
Learn how to avoid fast fashion and send that ugly trend to join the likes of parachute pants and wearing jeans under dresses.
10. USE REUSABLES
Join the Reusable Revolution and build a zero waste kit: bags, containers, coffee mugs, face masks, razors, cutlery, sandwich bags, beeswax wraps, sanitary pads, paper towels—just a few of the many zero waste swaps you can make to drastically reduce your contribution to the physical waste stream.
If you can get it in a reusable form, do so.
But, that doesn’t mean purchasing something new. First try to reuse something you already have. A repurposed glass jar can go a long way.
For whatever you don’t own, zero waste stores have all the plastic-free essentials.
11. BE A CONSCIOUS SHOPPER
Everything you buy has an impact. Even sustainable products designed to reduce your overall waste.
Everything requires energy, water, human labor, and materials to produce, even opting for glass over plastic (see our deep dive in the glass vs plastic packaging debate) is no straight forward matter. Which is why not buying anything at all is far and away the most sustainable choice.
That’s not always possible, we know. Fortunately, there are sustainable clothing brands who not only reduce their negative impact, but actually have a positive impact on the world.
While you’ll likely pay more for something that isn’t mass-produced and made of plastic (like more than 60% of our clothes), think of it as an investment in both your wardrobe and the planet.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: GARDENING
12. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
Remember how local and seasonal produce reduces your carbon footprint? Growing it yourself takes that to the next level.
Every pound of food you grow yourself prevents two pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
If you end up replacing 20% of store-bought food with veggies, herbs, and fruit you grow yourself, you can minimize your carbon footprint by about 68 pounds of CO2 per year! Considering 8% of each person’s carbon footprint comes from food, that’s pretty huge.
Food is an organic material, meaning it’s biodegradable. However, when food breaks down in a landfill, it can’t biodegrade properly. Instead, it releases methane (the same gas in cow farts), which is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Imagine if we could turn those food scraps into something that helps our planet, instead of harming it…
Even if you live in a small apartment and don’t have the space to make a compost heap outside, composting is the single best way to reduce your carbon footprint by giving that old banana peel a new lease on life.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: ENERGY
14. MINIMIZE YOUR ENERGY CONSUMPTION
There’s no question that energy has improved our lives, but hot water and reading lights come at a cost (and not just to our bank accounts).
In the US, residential energy use accounts for about 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions. That’s on par with the total emissions of Brazil (the world’s sixth largest carbon emitter).
Time to flip the switch and learn how to reduce your carbon footprint at home.
Fortunately “there’s a lot you can do without having to pick up a hammer or write a check,” says the National Resource Defense Council’s director:
- Turn off the lights and any equipment when not in use.
- Keep electronics, appliances, and chargers unplugged when not in use. They drain phantom energy, which amounts for 5-10% of electricity consumption.
- Adjust the heat/air conditioning a few degrees and add/shed layers to stay comfortable. Better yet, snuggle in with a cozy sustainable blanket! Every extra degree of heating or cooling (above 68F and below 78F) means a 6-8% increase in energy.
- Swap incandescent lights with sustainable lights
- Purchase energy efficient appliances
- Install energy efficient windows
- Insulate/weatherize your home
- Keep your refrigerator and freezer at their recommended temperatures. They’re also more efficient when full (just like your dishwasher, washer, and dryer)!
- Keep your oven door closed when cooking. You can also turn it off a few minutes early—the food will still cook!
- Wash your clothes less often (smell test, ladies and gents). This also prevents a lot of wear and tear on the clothes and extends their life.
- Wash clothes in cold water and line dry if possible.
15. INSTALL SOLAR PANELS
If you’ve got the time and/or money, install solar panels.
If solar panels aren’t practical or possible for you, switch to a clean energy provider instead. Many energy companies have the option to pay a small premium in order to source energy generated from renewable sources.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT AT HOME
We hope you found some helpful tips and inspiration on how you might reduce your carbon footprint at home.
Whatever you do, whether it’s walking to work one day or putting that new dress back on the rack, know it will help Mother Earth breathe a little easier. Many of these tips are easy to incorporate into your lifestyle—which means you can reduce your carbon footprint on a daily basis.
And while they may not seem like much, little changes become big changes overtime. Sustainable living isn’t about doing it all; it’s about doing what you can.
Starting with sharing this article with friends and family (‘tis the season for giving, after all). The biggest barrier to halting climate change is simply convincing people their choices matter.
Now, what are your go-to tips for reducing your footprint? Let us know in the comments below.