Just about everything you do contributes to your carbon footprint - from watching TV to eating a sandwich. It’s the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by your activities and lifestyle, which means anything that requires energy will add to it. But reducing your carbon footprint, and therefore your contribution to climate change, is probably easier than you’d think. This guide will give you practical ways to start now - from walking to school in the morning, to turning off the TV at night.
Can what I do really make a difference?
A 2017 report by the Climate Accountability Institute found that 71% of carbon emissions since 1988 can be traced back to 100 fossil-fuel-producing companies. With statistics like that, it’s easy to feel like what we do as individuals won’t make a difference.
However, these companies produce the fossil fuels that we use; as consumers, we create the demand for fossil fuels through our activities. So by changing our own habits, we can go some way to reducing global carbon emissions.
If you need an example of how an individual can make a big change, look no further than Greta Thunberg. At 15 years old, her protest outside the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) sparked demonstrations across the globe, culminating in the largest climate strike in world history on 20 September 2019. Her book is titled No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, to recognise that any individual can help fight climate change, no matter how powerless they feel.
Climate change is a problem that affects us all and it will require a global effort to fix it. This involves governments and big businesses, as well as individuals. Here are five ways you can help:
1. On your plate
- Eat less meat. Cute as they are, cows and sheep contribute to around 11.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Not only do they burp out a lot of methane (a greenhouse gas), but they also require a lot of water, energy, and food. Researchers at Oxford University found that eating a vegan diet could reduce a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. But if you’re not ready to cut out beef burgers completely, reducing your meat consumption is a good start.
- Eat seasonal, local produce. In most supermarkets you’ll see food from around the world, no matter what season it is. Often, these foods have been transported from miles away, greatly increasing their carbon footprint. Try to eat locally-produced food, only when it’s in season.
2. In your shopping basket
- Avoid ‘fast fashion’. Fast fashion refers to cheap clothing that you wear once or twice before discarding, so you can always keep up with the latest trends. It’s produced cheaply overseas and then flown or shipped in. The environmental cost of this is huge. Try to buy good-quality clothes that will last longer. Look out for the GOTS label on cotton products, which shows that an item has been made in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
- Reuse. Try to avoid single-use plastics (ie. items that you use once and then throw away). Instead, bring your own reusable coffee cup to a café, which you can wash and use over and over again. It’s also possible to buy reusable water bottles, make-up wipes, sanitary products, and grocery bags.
- Buy packaging-free products. For example, swap out your plastic bottle of shower gel for a bar of soap. Look for shops that offer a refill system for food and toiletries so you can cut down on wasteful packaging.
- Support eco-friendly companies. Look for products that are sold by companies taking a stand against climate change. Although occasionally these items may cost more, their production and materials are often much better for the environment. You’ll find some Useful resources for this at the end of the guide.
3. In your home
- Switch off electronics. Turn off your lights and electronics when you’re not using them; otherwise, you’re wasting power. Even when left on standby your tech can still use electricity, so make sure you turn things off at the plug.
- Turn down your heating. A decrease of 1°C in your heating can reduce your energy consumption by 8%. Again, this saves money and reduces your CO2 emissions.
- Hang out your washing. Rather than using a tumble drier, hang your laundry out to dry. Doing so could save around 153kg of CO2 yearly.
- Switch to renewables. Many energy providers now supply electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power. They’re often affordable too, meaning you save money and the environment. Nice.
4. On your travels
- Reduce your car journeys. Instead of taking short trips by yourself, consider walking or taking public transport. If you’ve a long way to go, carpooling works too.
- Fly less. According to data from Atmosfair, flying from London to Paris and back generates about 92kg of CO2 per person. On your next holiday, try going somewhere by train or car instead.
5. At your school
- Raise awareness. According to The Guardian, schools in the UK produce roughly 9.4m tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. You could raise awareness about this through the school council, an environment club, or by talking to your teachers and peers.
- Meat-free Mondays and Litterless lunches. Challenge your school to reduce its carbon footprint in the canteen.
- Recycle more. Lots of schools already recycle paper and plastic, but it’s also possible to recycle old ink cartridges, pens, batteries, electronic equipment, and clothes - all things that schools use a lot of. You could even create a compost heap for food waste and grass cuttings.
- Introduce a cycle-to-school or carpool scheme. Ask your school to prioritise sustainable transport. This could be as simple as providing bike racks, or rewards for students who travel by bike or on foot.