10 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Inevitably, in going about our daily lives--commuting, sheltering our families, eating--each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Yet, there are many things each of us, as individuals, can do to reduce our carbon emissions. The choices we make for our homes, travel, the food we eat, and what we buy and throw away all influence our carbon footprint and, chosen wisely, can help ensure a stable climate for future generations.
Pay attention to packaging.
When out shopping, try to go to stores or co-ops that keep packaging to a minimum. For example, buy loose tomatoes rather than boxed or plastic-wrapped tomatoes. Also, avoid items, like cereals and crackers, that include a non-recyclable bag inside of a box, and you'll also avoid more heavily processed food. Take reusable bags to the grocery store, including reusable produce bags, which can save a countless amount of plastic!
Stop buying bottled water.
This is likely no news flash for you, but let's review: Bottled water has a huge carbon footprint--it's bottled at one location in small plastic bottles that were made at another location and shipped long distances. Many plastic water bottles are recycled, but most are not, making the footprint even bigger. Get yourself a reusable water bottle like Klean Kanteen. Also, a lot of restaurants have made the switch from offering fancy bottled water, usually imported from an exotic source, to using in-house filtration systems that make tap water a good choice. Ask about it next time you dine out.
Sign up for Green Power
Here is probably the quickest and most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon emissions: Enroll in a green power program with your utility company. While the exact electricity mix varies from state to state, based on the average mix in the United States, by choosing green power from your utility you can reduce you carbon emission by some 7 tons per year. And at the same time send a message to your utility that it better start investing in some more wind farms, because more and more people are committed to greening the national power supply. Yes, a few minutes and one phone call can reduce your personal carbon emissions seven times as much as recycling.
Skip the flight.
Simply skipping one mid-range flight (say from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri) reduces your emissions as much as one full year of recycling, by about 1970 pounds per flight on that route. If you travel frequently for work, investigate other options such as Amtrak or even video conferencing, and if you have family that live halfway across the country, try to combine smaller trips into one longer one or simply go less frequently.
Unplug appliances that you don't use frequently. Most electronics have a standby mode that siphons energy even when not in use. Cell phone chargers, laptops, televisions, stereos--there's a whole list of items that should be unplugged when not in use. Try using a power strip for groups of electronic items. One flick of the switch and it's all off.
Buy organic and local.
Local food cuts down on miles and miles of traveling to get to your plate. And it's fresher than what's transported across the globe to your mega mart. Supermarket produce is often picked a week before it's ripe, and has to do its final ripening in transport. This also goes for that cup of joe--coffee beans have to travel long distances and go through a complicated production process before they even make it to your local coffee shop. Also, try eating at restaurants that serve locally produced or seasonal foods.
Go Vegetarian (or Vegan)
Cutting meat out of your diet has a large impact on your lifestyle carbon emissions. And can lower your food bill by 20 percent to boot! The emissions and resources needed to raise animals for food are so much higher than for raising vegetables that by eating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet you can save about one ton of carbon emissions each year compared to your carnivorous friends. Cut out eggs and cheese and save two tons per year. I've written previously about becoming a Weekday Vegetarian, which is a nice way to start if you don't want to abandon meat altogether.
Keep your car.
What? How can keeping your car reduce carbon? With gas prices seemingly always on the rise, it's tempting to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. But if your older-model car is in good condition, you're better off keeping it in good running condition. Even hybrids create a big footprint when they're built, so consider driving that old clunker for a little while longer. Also, try more eco-friendly modes of transport when possible, like buses, trains, a bicycle, telecommuting, or even walking.
Use cold water.
No, not in the shower... but maybe in the washer. I spoke of this in my last post about green laundry, but it's important to repeat as it relates to carbon impact! Try using cold water to launder things that don't need to be cleaned in hot or warm water.It takes a lot of energy to heat up water -- multiply that by the number of loads, and that's a big footprint. Most major detergent makers sell detergents designed to have the same cleaning power as with regular soap. Try washing mixed loads in cold water, too.
Make time for errands.
A lot of us try to run errands in-between work and other commitments. Try bundling errands together to reduce how far you need to travel. Going back-and-forth to the same part of town on different days to run errands uses more gas than if you planned and did everything in the same area all at once. And if you really want to make it a "carbon freebie," try carpooling and running errands with a buddy.
Learn how to offset your personal and home carbon here at Terra Pass or Renewable Choice.
Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.