With the planet warming at unsustainable rates, it’s imperative now more than ever that we each take responsibility for reducing our carbon footprint. Everything you do, from the clothing you wear to the food you eat, contributes in some way to greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are 11 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint:
1. Eat less red meat and dairy products.
The world’s insatiable demand for red meat makes up about 9 percent of the world’s contribution to climate change, about one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions for the US agriculture industry alone. Through forests destroyed to create grazing grounds for cattle, to food grown specifically to feed cows, to the methane released by these ruminants, to the mismanagement of their waste, beef and milk are two of the highest carbon-footprint foods one can consume. Just switching from beef to chicken reduces your carbon footprint by 75 percent.
2. Reduce how much single-use items you purchase and throw out.
Every year, 58 billion disposable cups are thrown out in the US alone. They also use about 50 billion plastic water bottles in a year. Not only is this creating waste (when not recycled), plastic is made from crude oil and can only be recycled a finite number of times. Use a re-useable shopping bag when you go shopping (not just for groceries, for clothes too!), take a re-useable to-go cup when you order coffee in the morning, bring a to-go container with you when you want to eat out, and reduce the amount of store-bought beverages you consume. If you do buy commercial drinks from the store, opt for aluminum, the most energy-efficient material to recycle, or glass, infinitely recyclable through its lifetime. Get inspired by Beth Terry’s “My Plastic-free Life.”
3. Purchase sustainable food that’s responsibly grown.
Purchasing locally grown food means that there was less transport, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, used to get that food to your plate. Getting your locally made products means the same. Especially when you purchase in bulk and from a farmer’s market, where processing, packaging, and storage is left out. Also, when buying mixed source products, like granola, think about where all the raw materials came from. Things like cacao, coffee, and coconuts have to travel a long way to get to you, if you don’t live in the tropics.
4. Avoid fast fashion.
It takes over 200 tons of water to produce 1 ton of fabric and in many countries, the safe management of the toxic byproduct of the fashion industry is unregulated. The joke goes that in China, you can predict the next season’s trends by the color of the river. The average American tosses 82 pounds of textile waste each year, which adds up to 11 million tons of the stuff from our country piling up in landfills. Cheap clothes mean cheap processes that are harmful to the planet and the people who make your clothes. Rather than purchasing cheap clothing and fast fashion pieces that you’ll soon grow out of, go for meaningful pieces and purchase things that can last your lifetime (or at least until you wear it out). Make an effort to donate your clothes and buy from thrift stores when you want something new to wear. And, care for your clothing in a more earth friendly way: cold wash and line dry. Learn about the carbon impact of laundering your jeans from Levis. While you’re at it, check out our 5 step program to green up your closet.
5. Unplug and switch off.
Helping to reduce your energy consumption is an important way to reducing your footprint. Do so by switching off and unplugging any electronics that you aren’t using, reducing the amount of heat and air-conditioning you use, and using as much natural light as possible by rising and getting to sleep early. This will also save you money.
6. Plant perennial trees and plants.
Some plants absorb more CO2 than other plants. Find out which plants grow well in your area and help capture the most greenhouse gases. Generally speaking, new saplings absorb more CO2 than older trees (although the latter store more CO2 than the former). Also, be mindful of how your garden by collecting rainwater and grey water from your household to water your yard.
7. Reduce the amount of waste you create.
This includes everything from clothing to single-use plastic bottles to food that’s gone bad. Purchase only what you need, donate second-hand items to charities, and reuse any containers purchased from the store. About 40 percent of food from the US food supply goes to the landfill. Start composting at home and reduce the amount of waste that has to be collected and processed at your house.
8. Opt to dine-in rather than eating out.
Even when compared to a single-person eating at home, dining out is still more impactful to the environment than cooking at home. With 58 percent of Americans dining out at least once a week, this is a hefty increase in greenhouse gas emissions. From energy needed to run a venue to food waste and packaging, the restaurant industry has a lot to answer for its impact on global climate change. Eating at home is not only healthier but also better for the planet and your wallet.
9. Avoid purchasing beauty products with petrolatum.
Petrolatum is a byproduct of the oil industry. It’s derived from crude oil and unfortunately not a sustainable product. Not to mention, it can be contaminated with other chemicals and doesn’t actually hydrate your skin. Unfortunately, you’ll find petrolatum in everything from facial moisturizers to body washes.
10. When you travel, travel slowly.
If you do want to travel, it’s better to take your time and get to your destination in the slowest way possible, using public transportation when possible. Buses, subways, and trains are great options to get to where you’re going. And, once you’re in your destination, stay for a while rather than changing hotels every other day. More on how driving compares to flying here.
11. Offset your carbon footprint.
It’s inevitable that most things you do release greenhouse gases, so offsetting your carbon footprint are one of the surest ways to make sure your livelihood is carbon neutral. Did you know that deforestation causes up to 15% of all global warming emissions? If we can stop deforestation globally, it would result in 30% of the emissions reductions needed to maintain our global temperature increase below 2 degrees C. Buying carbon offsets that come from forest protection is one of the most direct and sizable actions you can take to combat climate change. Depending on your country of residence, this can be as little as $30/year to $180/year. Offset today.