You’ve heard about the climate crisis and the bleak view for the future of our planet. If you really dive in to learn more, it’s terrifying and there’s the temptation to ignore it all because the solutions seem so beyond our control. I know how you feel, but the good news is you really do have the power to make a difference and one way is to reduce your carbon footprint.
How Do I Calculate My Carbon Footprint?
The first step to reducing your carbon footprint is to establish your current footprint. This can be tricky because each stage of any action has a carbon footprint associated with it. Fortunately, there are online calculators to help estimate your and your family’s footprint.
Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient
Do Some Energy-Efficient DIY Projects
It’s all about efficiency! That is, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint and save some money, the solution is to make your home energy-efficient.
According to the Department of Energy, the typical American family spends nearly $2,000 per year on their home energy bills. Much of the money is wasted through leaky windows or ducts, old appliances, or inefficient heating and cooling systems.
The DOE’s Energy Saver DIY Project Guide provides easy, step-by-step instructions on several home energy-efficiency improvements that will save you energy and money. For a DIY guide to sealing and insulating your home, see ENERGY STAR’s comprehensive guide.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. They’ll reduce your carbon footprint and you’ll save money on your energy bills.
- ENERGY STAR. The ENERGY STAR label on an appliance is a good indicator that the product is energy efficient. These products have been independently certified to save energy “without sacrificing features or functionality.” Try out the ENERGY STAR Savings Calculator to help you look beyond the sticker price for energy savings.
- Refrigerators and freezers. Set these at energy-efficient temperatures. Fridge: between 38-42º F. Freezer: between 0-5º F.
If you haven’t started already, swap out incandescent bulbs for energy-efficient alternatives. You’ll also save some money. According to the Department of Energy, replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with ENERGY STAR rated alternatives will save you $70 – $75 each year.
Don’t forget outdoor lighting! Exterior lighting can be one of the most frequently used fixtures in the home and it’s simple to replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient options, including solar-powered and motion-sensing lighting.
- Insulate windows. Install weather stripping or caulking around windows. It’s estimated you’ll reduce heating costs by more than 25%. In the winter, replace screens with storm windows to provide an extra barrier to the cold outside air.
- Insulate doors. In addition to weather stripping and caulking around doors, install a door sweep to seal the gap between the bottom of an exterior door and the outside.
- Insulate yourself! In the winter, we set our thermostat at 68º and bundle up with socks, sweaters and a cozy blanket when lounging on the couch.
Turn it Off to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
- Turn off lights when you leave a room, even those LED lights!
- WaterSense Label. Look for water-efficient products with the EPA’s WaterSense label. WaterSense has a product search tool to search a wide variety of styles and price points.
- Turn off the water when brushing teeth or washing dishes.
- Leaks. Fix those leaky faucets, toilets, showerheads, and more to reduce water usage and save money. Check out the Fix a Leak page on WaterSense for more information and tips.
- Clothes washing. Wash full loads of clothes in cold water. According to a recent study, washing clothes at a cold setting reduces CO2 emissions by 1.2-14.9 pounds per laundry load (depending on washing machine type, temperature, and electricity source).
- Avoid the double-rinse cycle on your washing machine.
- For your next purchase, consider a front-loading washing machine that uses one-third to one-quarter of the water compared to top-loading models.
- Bathing. Take a quick shower and use a low-flow showerhead.
- Toilets. Make your next toilet purchase of a dual-flush one. The dual feature allows you to select how much water per flush is needed!
Pull the Plug
- Chargers. Put all your chargers on one extension. Turn it off when not in use.
- Appliances. Pull out the plugs on appliances and devices when not in use. “Vampire electronics” continue to use energy even when they’re turned off or in sleep mode.
- Air conditioning. Set air conditioning thermostats to 75-78°F.
- Instead of using the air conditioner, open the windows and turn on the fans to save money and keep cool.
- Heating. Set heating thermostats to 67-68°F during the day and less at night. By turning your thermostat back 10-15º for eight hours each day, you can save 5-15% per year on your heating bill.
- Water heater. Reduce the temperature setting on your water heater. 120º is adequate for most homes.
- Flush the tank every year to eliminate mineral sediment that can reduce the tank’s capacity.
- Insulate an older tank to prevent heat from escaping.
- Vacation mode. Turn your air conditioning, heat, and even your water heater down when you’re out of town.
Check Your Diet
- Eat less red meat. A study by researchers at the University of Chicago finds that the greenhouse gas emissions of animal vs plant protein diets vary by as much “as the difference between owning an average sedan versus a sport-utility vehicle.”
- Eat more plants. It’s not only healthy, but the carbon footprint is less than a meat-heavy diet.
- Eat less processed, packaged foods. Again, a healthier option, but you’ll also reduce your carbon footprint as these types of foods are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Don’t Waste Your Food!
This fact always amazes me: If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Food waste really is a huge waste and if you do anything else to reduce your carbon footprint, take some steps to reduce your food waste.
- Plan ahead before shopping for food.
- Compost. It’s so gratifying to compost and divert food from the landfill or incinerator. For resources and ways to compost, read Green That Life’s post on composting.
- Eat your leftovers. Take a careful look at your food purchases to determine whether you’re buying too much and then throwing it all away. Use up those leftovers! I offer tips on how to “repurpose” leftover food here.
- Freeze your food. If you’re sick of leftovers, freeze them for a future meal. Green That Life’s Guide to Freezing any Food will show you how.
Reduce Junk Mail and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
It sounds unbelievable, but reducing junk mail deliveries to your home can help reduce your carbon footprint.
With over 77 billion pieces of marketing material mailed in 2018 alone, consumers are deluged with paper. Just imagine how many millions of trees (between 80 – 100 million) are needlessly cut down, not to mention the carbon emissions from manufacturing and processing this mountain of unwanted junk.
What can you do? Reduce your unwanted junk mail! Use these organizations to remove your name from mailing lists:
- Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to select specific catalogs and junk mail to cancel. Choose from nearly 10,000 titles.
- OptOutPrescreen allows you to opt-out from unwanted credit card mailings. You can choose from a five-year or permanent removal.
- Charity Watch Organization provides helpful tips for reducing unwanted mailings from charities.
- PaperKarma‘s app stops junk mail in a snap. Take a photo of unwanted junk mail and catalogs and PaperKarma will unsubscribe you from the mailing list.