10 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
7 - Minute Read
Jun 17, 2022
Here's a thought-provoking question: How much impact do your own activities have upon the Earth? Here's another interesting question: Would you change your actions if you knew exactly when you left a negative imprint on the world? (Imagine a carbon footprint wristband lighting up every time you didn’t recycle your soda can. Maybe someday.)
We'll answer the questions, "What is carbon footprint?" and "What are greenhouse gas emissions?" We'll also walk through the largest contributors of carbon in the atmosphere and large and small ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Don't worry, it won't be like science class, where each kid had to read a paragraph in turn about the greenhouse effect. It'll really apply to your life. Let's get started.
What Is A Carbon Footprint?
So, what is carbon footprint? A carbon footprint refers to greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, that each individual's actions put into Earth's atmosphere.
Why should you seriously consider reducing your carbon footprint? Putting a check on your own carbon footprint helps control the effects of global climate change. It also:
● Improves public health
● Helps the global economy (yes, believe it or not!)
● Purifies the air
● Ensures cleaner water
● Helps encourage food production
● Decreases dependence on fossil fuels
There are many of other reasons to consider controlling your carbon footprint – the simplest act, such as trying to move away from fossil fuels, encourages positive effects you might not even consider. You can measure your own imprint by using a carbon footprint calculator.
What Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)?
Almost everyone can agree that greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have sprawling environmental and health effects.
● Environmental effects: Greenhouse gases cause climate change by trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere. They contribute to extreme cases of damaging weather, destroy food supplies (such as when droughts occur and ruin crops) and increased wildfires. Other negative effects include rising sea levels (which results in flooding) and disrupting animal migration and hunting patterns.
● Health effects: Greenhouse gases contribute to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution.
Greenhouse gases also result in population displacement. Here's an example: Rising sea levels in one area can cause an entire population to have to move, usually into a territory that’s already occupied.
But what are some examples of greenhouse gases that affect us? (Flashback to chemistry class!) Here are some examples of change-wielding gases from human activity:
● Carbon dioxide (CO2)
● Methane (CH4)
● Nitrous oxide (N2O)
● Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
● Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
● Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
● Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)
Large amounts of these gases as a whole upset the natural balance of the Earth. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide is a noxious brew: Once added to the atmosphere, it hangs around for a long time – 300 – 1,000 years. The carbon dioxide of today will affect many generations to come, according to NASA.
The Largest Contributors Of Carbon In The Atmosphere
You may only have to look as far as your backyard to see evidence of carbon release into the atmosphere. Let's walk through examples of how agriculture, industrial processes, deforestation and energy production can affect climate change.
● Agriculture: Let's say you’re a farmer in North Dakota. Agriculture is a major culprit of carbon release into the atmosphere. It occurs when carbon dioxide releases from the soil through plant decay. Believe it or not, the tiniest actions can contribute to carbon dioxide creation. For instance, insect and microbial activity in soil also contributes to carbon dioxide release.
● Industrial processes: Now, let's consider someone who lives in mainland China, where you can find thousands of coal-fired power plants. Carbon dioxide comes from these plants, which burn a type of fossil fuel (coal) to produce heat, electricity and fuel. These power plants affect the atmosphere by pumping out tons of greenhouse gases and other toxins, even ash.
● Deforestation: Let's imagine you live by the Amazon rainforest. The mature trees in the rainforest had been collecting and storing carbon dioxide from the air in their wood, leaves, and soil as they grew. Once they're cut down, that carbon is released, no longer locked up in the rainforest. Burning the trees also impacts the atmosphere.
● Energy production: Energy production carries a weighty environmental impact. Consider electricity, which everyone uses: Fuel is needed to generate electricity, which emits greenhouse gases and other air pollution. Electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal and wind generally do not contribute to climate change or local air pollution once installed since no fuel combustion occurs. "Clean energy" is a common buzzword, and it simply includes renewable energy, energy efficiency and efficient combined heat and power.
Make The Switch To Clean Energy: Add Solar Panels To Your House
Solar power provides a clean and renewable source of energy and reduces carbon dioxide by collecting energy from the sun and converting it into usable electricity. Going solar and installing panels at home can impact your energy use, reduce emissions and save you money over the long run.
It’s not just traditional warm weather regions that can benefit from solar, either. For one property in Metro Detroit with an average monthly electric bill of $100, the installation of a 6.5 kW photovoltaic (PV) solar system could save someone $11,000 after accounting for eligible tax incentives over a 20-year period. Check out your own potential energy savings.
Beyond the bill savings, there’s also a huge clean energy impact. Using the same tool, you find that installing the same PV system saves 6.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide generation. It’s also equivalent to 158 tree seedlings being grown over 10 years. The bottom line is converting to solar makes a huge impact.
How Other Common Activities Contribute To Your Carbon Footprint
How might your everyday activities contribute to carbon emissions? Let's put together a quick list, then walk through a few alternatives to accomplish these common activities in a way that helps you reduce your carbon footprint.
These common activities impact carbon emissions:
● Driving a car
● Eating red meat
● Using single-use plastics
● Buying clothes and furniture
● Flying on an airplane
● Using your dryer instead of hanging clothes on the clothesline
● Flipping the lights on unnecessarily
● Keeping a computer or other items plugged in all the time
● Wasting food
● Building a house
● Having a child
So, what can you do differently? Let's dive in.
Carpool And Use Public Transportation
Carpools and using public transportation means there are fewer cars on the road, which means they won't be emitting greenhouse gases. Individually, carpoolers reduce personal commute greenhouse gas emissions by anywhere from 3% – 18% annually for the average member after joining a car-sharing platform, according to one study released in 2020 from researchers out of the Netherlands and Finland.
If you have don’t have access to carpool programs, consider purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle.
Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances
Residential electricity consumption (especially from home appliances) accounts for about one-fifth of U.S. energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. New energy-efficient appliance models use as little as half of the energy as their predecessors. When you need a new appliance, buy ENERGY STAR products to reduce your overall home energy use. These appliances must meet strict energy-efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Department of Energy.
Swap Out Single-Use Plastics For Reusable Alternatives
Swap single-use plastics like soda bottles, plastic shopping bags and other items for reusable alternatives like canvas tote bags, compostable silverware and plates. The refinement of plastics emits millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases (184 to 213 million, to be exact!) each year. Landfills account for over 15% of methane emissions (which is where single-use plastics go). Making these simple changes can even affect the environment in positive ways.
Recycling: It's the most basic, tried-and-true method of keeping consumer products out of landfills, and in doing so, you can help impact emissions. Check the bottom of items for the recognizable "recycle" symbol and take care when you need to get rid of batteries, appliances and more. These items may require special disposal methods, such as learning about collection programs or upcoming events in your community. These days, companies are developing ways to safely recycle solar panels.
Jump online with just about any recycling query you have and you'll probably find a solution.
Did you know that buying local foods and goods helps reduce carbon emissions? Think about it: Let's say you buy a bunch of steaks from an online company. In addition to butchering those methane-producing cows, someone will have to transport those steaks in a refrigerated or freezer truck to your house. (Plus, maybe your mailman delivers more marketing materials from the steak company in his car.)
Buying local foods can lessen your impact on the environment because it shortens the distance your food needs to travel. (Bonus points if it's organic!)
Reduce Your Water Consumption
It takes lots of energy to pump, treat and heat water. Reducing the amount of water you use can heavily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Take a look at some ways you can conserve water:
● Use the shower for a shorter period of time and go longer between baths and showers.
● Install flow restrictors in your shower.
● Get an ENERGY STAR-rated dishwasher.
● Check your toilet for leaks (and use ENERGY STAR toilets or put a conversion kit on your existing toilet).
● Turn off the water while shaving or brushing your teeth.
● Use the washing machine only when it's fully loaded.
● Plant outdoor plants in the spring and fall, when they won't need as much water to get going.
Need more ideas? Students from 10 schools on six continents put together a list of 100 ways to conserve water and how to reduce carbon footprint.
Pay For Carbon Offsets When Traveling
Some airlines offer you the option to pay to offset your carbon use when traveling. What does this mean? You can buy offset credits equivalent to the amount of emissions from that particular journey. Your credits go toward certified carbon reduction projects through the airline.
Many common airlines offer it, including Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and more. For example, check out United’s Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program.
Avoid Shopping for Clothes and Furniture
Believe it or not, the jeans you're wearing can have a huge impact on the environment. The fashion industry accounts for about 8% to 10% of global carbon emissions. In fact, fashion produces more energy than both aviation and shipping combined.
Consider upcycling what you already own, shopping secondhand, looking for natural fibers and supporting sustainable brands. Vintage pieces always have a way of coming back in style.
Impact Climate Change By Making Small Changes
If some of these changes seem small, that's because they are. Using reusable bags instead of the plastic ones at the grocery store – and using less water when you brush your teeth – now that’s doable. If you want to make a larger impact on your carbon footprint, consider adding solar panels to your home. Once you become mindful about how you use energy, it can become second nature.
Curious about how Rocket Solar can help you affordably install solar panels and reduce your carbon footprint? Check out more details on how to get started.