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Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is entirely possible and easier than you might think!
While we can’t eliminate CO2 emissions entirely, we can offset the remaining, by supporting sustainable businesses, planting trees, and making small changes in our everyday life, that can make a huge difference in the long run.
In this article, I’ll give you 29 ideas divided into 7 categories, on how you can start immediately reducing your carbon footprint.
While some of the changes are simple tweaks you can make right away, others might need a bit of planning.
The best part is that some of these changes will save you money, too.
If you wonder which are the most effective actions, you will find the 4 most significant ways to reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions in the conclusion.
(+ an infographic with all of the 29 actions!)
Before we start, let’s take a quick look at what exactly is a carbon footprint, and why it’s crucial.
In brief, we will go through:
What is a carbon footprint?
29 ways to start reducing your carbon footprint right now
- Ways to reduce carbon footprint with food
- Ways to reduce carbon footprint at school
- Ways to reduce carbon footprint at work
- Ways to reduce carbon footprint in college
- Ways to reduce the carbon footprint when traveling
- Ways to reduce CO2 emissions in your day to day activities at home
- Other personal changes that will reduce your CO2 emissions
- + the 4 most significant ways to reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions (+infographic)
1. What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the number of greenhouse gases, produced by direct and indirect human activities.
That includes the actions of a particular individual, organization, community, or natural, and non-human generated events, such as a volcano eruption.
Greenhouse gases, whether natural or human-produced, contribute to the warming of the planet. It’s simple:
A substantial carbon footprint is worse for the environment, and it causes a lot of harmful consequences, such as climate change.
What’s the difference between DIRECT and INDIRECT carbon footprint?
The direct carbon footprint emissions that individuals cause. The emissions are controllable and connected with the person’s influence on the environment. That can include normal daily activities, such as:
- driving a car
- general consumption
Indirect emissions are emissions related to the individual, such as the carbon produced by the country the person lives in.
That can vary depending on the activities of the individual, and it is indirect because it is based on not one individual but the whole American population and emissions.
2. 29 ways to start reducing your carbon footprint right now
Even though there are a bunch of online “carbon footprint calculators,” it’s tricky to calculate the exact carbon footprint of a particular activity. Luckily, that’s not the point, anyway.
The concept is simple: to start taking better and more sustainable choices, which will lower your overall footprint.
I’ll share with you 29 simple ways to start reducing your carbon footprint by making more sustainable decisions. The first category is:
Ways to reduce carbon footprint with food
1. Eat local food
Food that is coming from the other side of the world will have a more significant impact than the one that’s local.
Whenever possible, choose local fruits, veggies, and other products. In that way, you will also support the local industry.
The easiest way is to find local farmers’ markets and shops.
Also, organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy during production. So, from time to time, try to buy organic veggies.
They might be more expensive, but that’s because they require more hours of human labor compared to typical farming practices.
2. Eat more plants
The environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are not something new. Did you know that recycling is four times less effective than a plant-based diet?
What’s more, researches concluded that the lowest carbon footprint diets are vegan and vegetarian, while the highest footprint is the omnivore diet.
But what’s wrong with eating animals, and why it’s terrible for the environment?
- Agricultural food production emits ∼30% of global greenhouse gasses
- It occupies ∼40% of Earth’s land
- Animal agriculture causes nutrient pollution that profoundly alters ecosystems and water quality
- It also accounts for ∼70% of Earth’s freshwater withdrawals from rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater
Eating more plants is a powerful way to reduce your overall impact. Simply incorporate in your diet some of the foods with the lowest consequences, which are:
- whole-grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil.
The best part is that no one asks you to become vegan overnight! A study suggests that:
In other words, you can still consume animal products in one meal, out of 3. For example, as a start, you can try to eat:
- oatmeal with fruits and nuts in the morning, tofu scramble, or avocado toast
- a huge buddha bowl with quinoa and veggies, or nice veggie and beans stew for lunch
- and for dinner – you can eat veggies, legumes, and you can include animal products
Plant based food inspiration:
3. Avoid food waste
Food waste is harmful to our planet, but how?
Food waste contributes to excess consumption of fresh water and fossil fuels, which impacts global climate change.
Moreover, when the food waste ends up in a landfill, it goes through an anaerobic digestion process, where the organic matter is converted into methane.
Methane is known to be a potent greenhouse gas, and it is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
This is disturbingly a lot when taking into consideration that the solution is SO simple: just DON’T waste food.
Unfortunately, for some reason, it’s not that simple.
A survey found that the most common reasons given for discarding food were concern about food poisoning and a desire to eat only the freshest food.
Reducing food waste is beneficial, both for you and for the environment, since it will result in:
- saving money
- saving resources, such as energy and water
- it will reduce the greenhouse gasses
- it will lower your carbon footprint
Another solution for reducing your food waste AND food scraps is to start composting. By composting wasted food and other organics, you will reduce your carbon footprint significantly.
Start composting, even if you have a small apartment! The truth is that composting is easier than you think. There are a few methods, so make sure to check my article with 7 ways that will work perfectly for (a small) apartment, too.
In case you are not able to start composting right away, there are a few options for you. You can collect your food scraps, and then find:
1) Pick up service – a lot of cities offer pick-up services, so check if your municipality is one of them. It is simple, and it usually costs about $30.
The idea is to collect your food scraps and to allow the pick-up service to take care of them afterward. The food scraps usually end up to farms, gardens, feeding animals, etc.
CompostNow.org has an amazing map with compost pick up services across the US, so if you are interested, make sure to check it out!
2) Community centers – look for a specific location near you or a community space that collects food scraps.
3) Composting programs – try to do a quick online search to see if your city has one.
4) Farmers market/Farms – ask your local farmers market if they know where you can give your food waste. Perhaps, there will be people from the farmers market that will be happy to take your food scraps, for their own compost pile, or to feed their animals.
Ways to reduce carbon footprint at school
5. Save energy and resources
Some simple ways to save energy and resources are:
- When you’re not in a room, turn the light off.
- When your phone is charged, unplug the charger from the plug.
- Whenever possible, use electronic format, instead of printing. If you have to print something, make sure to print on both sides of the paper.
- Make food at home and bring to school – this will save you money, a lot of packaged snacks and food.
- If the heating/air conditioner is working, make sure that the windows are closed.
Recycling is tricky, and unfortunately, a tiny percentage of plastic is recycled. That’s why if your school doesn’t recycle, demand, and ask for recycling bins.
It is also important to mention that REDUCING the demand for plastic (and other materials) is always BEFORE recycling.
Maybe a lot of classmates don’t even know that their actions can affect our planet negatively.
Ask your teachers to watch some documentaries about our planet and the struggles we are facing as a society.
Some great environmental movies are:
- Before the flood
- Chasing Ice
- Racing Extinction
- A Plastic Ocean
- Chasing Coral
- Our Planet
- The True Cost
These environmental documentaries are engaging, thought-provoking, and, most importantly, educational.
8. Walk/bike to school
If it’s not too far, walk or ride your bike to school. If that’s not possible, then suggest carpooling to school with some of your parents’ friends.
Ways to reduce carbon footprint at work
9. Switch to LED Lighting
LED lighting is one of the most energy-efficient forms of light. LED bulbs can significantly reduce a business’s carbon footprint since they use roughly 15 times less electricity than halogen lighting.
A study in 2017 demonstrated that 570 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions were reduced thanks to the use of LED bulbs. This is an amount similar to shutting down 162 coal-fired power plants around the world.
They have the ability to last far longer than traditional bulbs, but they need to be used properly to extend their life. For instance, make sure the heat is not trapped around the bulb because if it is, it will become too hot and it will burn out in a shorter time.
Don’t forget, use natural daylight, whenever possible.
10. Replace business trips with online conferencing
If you are flying multiple times per year, then aviation might be the biggest part of your personal carbon footprint.
Aviation is responsible for 2% of all human-produced global emissions. While it doesn’t seem too much, the fact is that:
Worldwide, flights produced 895 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018. Globally, humans produced over 42 billion tonnes of CO2.
While some of us can’t stop flying forever and ever, there are at least some things we can do:
- replace business trips with online conferencing
- stop domestic air travel
- when you need to go to neighboring countries, choose alternative ways of traveling, such as – train, bus or carpooling
11. Get involved
If you want to make a difference, then you should GET INVOLVED and take initiative. Suggest and start some of the following ideas:
- Add green initiatives, such as outdoor clean-ups.
- Offset the business’s environmental impact by planting sustainably-managed trees.
- Set up goals and rewards systems to motivate people to reduce waste.
- Turn off computers and lights after meetings.
- Demand recycling bins and composters & find recycling and composting services for your office.
- Go paperless – switch to digital files and documents.
- Switch from disposable to rechargeable batteries – this will cut the overall waste and it will reduce the carbon footprint.
- Share a ride with a co-worker, go biking, or use public transport.
- Get a coffee machine in the office, or use keep cups, instead of disposable coffee cups.
- Introduce meat-free Mondays – starting a no-meat policy one day a week in your office, can help to cut down the emissions, especially if more people are involved.
Ways to reduce carbon footprint in college
Note: Some of the ideas from “school” and “work” are also applicable here.
12. Get reusable essentials
Before buying all sorts of different college essentials, first, see what you already have. Maybe you won’t need to get anything new.
Furthermore, be more conscious of your consumption patterns. To avoid single-use items, you may consider getting:
- pen & notebook – get a refillable pen, and recycled notebook
- backpack – use what you already have, or invest in something sustainable, such as
- water bottle – to avoid plastic water bottles, get yourself a reusable water bottle
- coffee mug – instead of getting single-use coffee
- utensils – instead of using single-use plastic utensils
- food container – bring food from home, to save money and to avoid getting pre-packed foods and snacks
13. Go biking
Reducing or eliminating your automobile travel is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
For example, cycling 10 km (6 miles) each way to university (or work) would save 1500 kg of greenhouse gas emissions each year!
Bicycles can play a huge role in cities to reduce GHGs within the transport sector. Bicycle transport is also beneficial for communities since it results in:
- mobility for lower-income households
- reduced noise and all kinds of emission
- reduced consumption of natural non-renewable resources
- increased road safety
- increased quality of life
Ways to reduce the carbon footprint when traveling
14. Less flying
I’ve mentioned this already, but if you can’t avoid it fully in the office, you can definitely take personal measures.
A lifestyle change like that can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions tremendously.
16. Walk more
Whenever possible, WALK!
Walk > Bike > Public transport > Driving
A car-free lifestyle is still better, even than low-emission vehicles, because it reduces:
- traffic jam and petroleum demand
- avoids the environmental toxicity issues surrounding electric vehicle production
17. Fly more carbon efficiently
There are a few simple things you can do, to fly more efficiently:
1) Fly economy class – First and business class takes up more space per seat, which equates to more fuel and more carbon per passenger.
2) Travel lightly – Heavy luggage = Greater fuel consumption to fly larger loads. When you travel lightly, with just a carry-on, you will have a lower impact.
3) Avoid waste – Reduce your general waste, and avoid getting things on the plane, since everything is single-use plastic. Besides, don’t waste food, water, or energy. Bring your reusable water bottle, a travel coffee mug, perhaps food containers, and some small produce bags.
4) Offsets? – A carbon offset a way to “compensate” for the greenhouse emissions of activity, such as flying. It works by paying to some (possibly shady and unknown) website, that claims to plant trees, or similar climate-friendly activity.
Offsetting does not reduce emissions. And the truth is that it is an extremely controversial topic.
Instead of blindly sending money to a website or organization that you don’t know, calculate the amount of carbon your journey will create and then donate money to a local and trustworthy organization.
Ways to reduce CO2 emissions in your day to day activities at home and out
Living car-free is the best, but of course, not possible for everyone. And that’s okay because if you want to lower your carbon footprint, it is all about the source.
Luckily, almost every car has an alternative source of fuel.
The best part is that switching over will cut your carbon footprint by 28%.
If you fill your car with gasoline, the better alternative is the alcohol = ethanol. To make the switch, you need to get an adapter, which is quite easy to install.
What if your har runs on diesel? Well, there is a better alternative, too. The greener option for diesel is biodiesel.
Before anything, though, make sure that your current vehicle is maintained correctly.
TIP: If you’re stuck in a jam, and you will probably have to wait for more, switch the engine off. Cutting the engine will save fuel and reduce emissions.
19. Unplug your devices
Did you know that devices are wasting vast amounts of electricity when they are not in active use?
Yes! Equipment in off or “standby” mode is still drawing power. That can be anything from plugged-in phone charger, tv, computer, DVR, printer, radio, alarm clock, microwave, etc.
Reducing the idle load of these always-on devices will save you money, and it will cut power plant pollution.
Some simple ideas and solutions:
- if you are not using a device, plug it out – that can be a device that you no longer use or something you use rarely
- plug devices such as TV, speaker bar, laptop, computer, monitor, printer, and other similar appliances into a power strip and switch them all off, when you don’t need them
- consider installing a whole-house switch that remotely turns off controlled outlets with the single flip of a switch
- adjust the power settings on your computer, game console, and TV
- Invest in ENERGY STAR™-labeled equipment wherever possible. Older deceives often use more energy than new ones. ENERGY STAR usually includes requirements to minimize idle load
Find more ideas and details about it here.
20. Green energy
Sign up with alternative energy providers that will generate all of the electricity WITHOUT releasing fossil carbon. It might be solar or wind, you decide what are your best options.
This will cut your carbon footprint by 15%! Find renewable electricity by writing your zip code here.
21. Wash clothing in cold water
About 90% of the energy used in the process of washing clothes goes towards heating the water. So unless you are trying to kill bacteria on your clothes with hot water, it is an easy way to save energy and prevent carbon pollution.
(depending on washing machine type, hot water temperature, and electricity source)
22. Hang dry clothes
Line drying clothing has several positive advantages, including:
- it saves money
- it promotes energy conservation
- reduces greenhouse gas emissions
- the sun helps to kill bacteria
- a fresh smell for your clothes without the use of chemicals
23. Choose energy-efficient lighting
Did you know that residential electricity use in 2016 emitted around 10.3% of U.S. total CO2e?
To reduce it, you can switch to an energy-efficient lightening.
Even though the price tag of an energy-saving light might be higher, it will drastically reduce your overall energy bill.
You can get an efficient fluorescent lamp or LED, which will last you the longest.
Interestingly, a study concluded that:
Other personal changes that will reduce your CO2 emissions
24. Boycott fast fashion
Fast fashion is the rapid production of inexpensive clothing, in response to the latest & quickly changing trends.
The clothing production is increasing, we buy and wear clothes a few times, we forget about them, and sooner or later, they end up in the bin. This over-consuming cycle is extremely harmful to our planet.
Do you wonder exactly how?
First off, textile production releases large amounts of water containing hazardous chemicals into the environment.
The textile industry is also a significant contributor to the issue of plastic entering the ocean.
Annually, an estimation is that around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres shed and end up in the ocean.
That happens during the washing of plastic-based textiles, such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic.
Finally, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production totaled 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is 21 more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Yikes.
The few natural solutions that I can suggest are:
- avoid impulsive shopping desires
- support ethical & sustainable brands
- shop second-hand
25. Buy second-hand
It can take a lot of energy and water to produce a single clothing item. For example, it can take:
- 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt
- 5,000 liters to make one pair of jeans
Furthermore, the most inexpensive clothing contains synthetic textile fibers such as polyester or nylon. Making synthetic polyester requires coal, petroleum, air, and water – two of which are fossil fuels.
The production creates air pollution.
Moreover, polyester is non-biodegradable – once you throw it away, it cannot naturally degrade. It will persistently stay on our planet, for god knows how long.
Shopping vintage and second hand can significantly reduce your impact on the world, plus it gives the clothing a second life.
Second-hand doesn’t demand new items, and it is not contributing to the waste stream by the fashion industry.
Related post: 16 Best Online Thrift Stores for Secondhand Clothing
26. Support local businesses
Probably you’ve heard the expression:
Think globally, act locally.
It promotes the idea of taking action in your community.
Supporting local coffee roasters, food vendors, beer brewers, and other small businesses are not only good for the local economy, but it’s also good for the planet.
Less transit time means less CO2 emissions.
27. Have fewer kids
This one is pretty straight forward. Humans pollute the planet more than any other creature.
So, having fewer kids is an effective way of reducing the carbon footprint. Interesting research provided the following findings:
Having fewer children is the best way to reduce your contribution to climate change, with almost 60 tonnes of CO2 per year.
28. Just buy less
Merely buying less stuff is an excellent path to lower emissions.
Whenever needed, buy recycled, used items, and encourage sharing!
It can be anything from clothing, electronics, books, food, etc.
Reusing, repurposing, and sharing things is a great way to build community and cut down waste.
29. Go zero waste
The production of ANYTHING usually required energy, and it is somehow related to greenhouses gasses.
What is more, some materials, such as plastic, emits greenhouse gases, in every stage of plastic production.
Going zero waste is all about:
Furthermore, going zero waste also means:
- No more meaningless shopping
- Buying goods in bulk with minimal packaging (for every 10% of waste reduction, 1,200 pounds of CO2e are avoided)
- Focusing on long-lasting & quality products
- Helping conserve resources and reduce pollution
- Encouraging the reduction of global warming
- Striving to preserve natural resources
Some of these changes might seem little and ineffective, but when you do them for a longer period, and if you combine them, they CAN make a vast difference!
Do you wonder which ones are with the most significant positive impact?
If you want to choose just 4 actions, the most effective in reducing an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions are:
- having one fewer child
- living car-free
- avoiding airplane travel
- eating a plant-based diet
- living car-free = 2.4 tCO2e
- hang drying clothing = 0.21 tCO2e
- washing clothing in cold water = 0.25 tCO2e
- having one fewer child ~ average for developed countries of 58.6 tCO2e
- roundtrip transatlantic flight – 1.6 tCO2e
- eating a plant-based diet – 0.8 tCO2e