It is getting impossible to deny that climate change is here and is wreaking havoc on ecosystems and communities alike. From burning fossil fuels, natural gas, and other greenhouse gases, to ignoring systemic changes to combat global warming, humans have so far to go before we can safely say we’re making progress on fighting the worst effects of climate change. The carbon footprint is a useful tool to help individuals track and measure their environmental impact, and we’re going to talk about how to calculate yours. This guide is filled with tons of ideas to help you reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably.
Table of contents
- What is a carbon footprint?
- How to calculate your carbon footprint
- 8 best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your food
- 8 ways to reduce your carbon footprint by changing how you travel
- 8 changes to make around the house to reduce your carbon footprint
- 8 shopping habits to learn so you can reduce your carbon footprint
Before we talk about all the different ways to reduce your carbon footprint, let’s start by describing what a carbon footprint really is.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon emissions and methane, that one person produces throughout their life. Through daily actions and other routines or activities, the carbon footprint is a good measure of one person’s impact on the planet.
How to calculate your carbon footprint
The average carbon footprint over one lifetime in the United States is about 16 tons. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons. If you are curious about how to calculate your carbon footprint, you can use a simple survey like the one published by the EPA. You input your regular activities like your travel habits, home energy, and waste production, and they will calculate your personal greenhouse gas emissions. To get the most accurate carbon footprint, you’ll probably need your home energy bills and an estimate of the miles you travel.
The global average carbon footprint needs to be about 2 tons if we hope to keep rising global temperatures to below 2* C. If you live in the United States, shifting your carbon footprint from 16 to 2 might sound impossible, but through incremental changes over the course of your life, it is completely achievable.
Here are 32 ways to reduce your personal footprint in your daily life; from food, to travel, to home, and finally, to your shopping.
8 best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your food
Most studies agree that food accounts for 25-35% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes everything from land use to production to supply chain and retail. This means there are so many things you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint with your food habits. Check out these 8 ways to get you started.
1. Eat local and seasonal
Taking the extra step to plan your meals and eating habits around the kinds of foods your area is known for reduces food miles, strengthens your local farming system, and reduces the need for unsustainable and unseasonal food habits. Food travels, on average, more than 1,500 miles to reach your plate. By eating as locally as possible, you can cut down on those miles and reduce your carbon footprint.
2. Keep your kitchen organized
A well-organized kitchen translates to more food eaten and less food wasted. If food is traveling so far to get to you, if you don’t even get to enjoy the nutrients of what you bought, those miles are getting wasted as well! Taking time to practice organizing your kitchen in a way that works best for you also saves you time, stress, and money.
3. Focus on eating plants
Animal agriculture is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Cows especially are responsible for methane emissions through their gas and digestion; methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. By reducing your intake of animal products and filling your plate with plants, you’re reducing your personal methane impact.
4. Reduce food waste
If you are not in the habit of composting, any wasted food you toss in the garbage gets sent to the landfill. Food does not break down like compost in a landfill; due the lack of air, or anaerobic conditions, when organic matter breaks down in a landfill, it actually emits methane. Reducing your food waste as much as possible translates to a smaller personal methane footprint.
There are so many other ways to reduce food waste overall; check out our full guide to learn more.
5. Opt out of plastic cutlery
In 2021, the plastic production industry officially overtook coal plants in carbon emissions. Plastic consumption truly matters, even if it’s just a set of plastic cutlery you use for takeout. Don’t spend extra money on an expensive bamboo set; just make yourself a set of cutlery with silverware from your own drawer. Throw it in your bag and rest easy knowing you’re reducing your carbon footprint.
6. Set up a compost system
No matter what composting method you try, you’re going to reduce your carbon footprint. According to the BBC, the greenhouse gas emissions of composting is just 14% that of simply tossing food in the landfill.
The Lomi electric composter turns your food scraps into nutrient-rich dirt in a matter of hours. It’s a great method to reduce your carbon impact and create a perfect additive for your garden or houseplants. So many people love Lomi, but any other composting system works well, too. Electric composters are much easier to use than you think; simply add in kitchen waste and press the button. If you’re ready to make a change in your carbon footprint without adding too much extra work, you should definitely pick up a Lomi electric composter.
7. Keep an eye out for ‘clearance’
Most grocery stores have a section near the back for ‘clearance’ food. Don’t worry; they’re not selling you food that has gone bad! They’ve actually marked down the prices on cans that have a small dent or snacks that have a ‘Best By’ date that is coming up (in a year or so). Don’t forget to browse this section on your next shopping trip, and stop some foods from going to waste!
Be mindful of your impact on that section, though. Just like overshopping thrift shops reduces access to affordable clothes for people in your community, this section serves a similar purpose.
8. Share food with your community
One more food waste reduction strategy: if you’ve got a little extra food one week, share with a neighbor or have some friends over for a home cooked meal. Strong connections with your community can come in handy when you have a full fridge now, and for when you need a little help in the future.
Food waste is so important to be mindful of because almost 40% of all food produced is thrown out. The energy required to produce your food from seed to fruit, from farm to market, and from the market to your home could all be wasted if your groceries just sit in the fridge; try your best to make the most of them.
8 ways to reduce your carbon footprint by changing how you travel
Travel accounts for one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you drive, fly, or take public transport, there are key steps you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Check out 8 of the best ways to make your travel more sustainable.
9. Get familiar with public transport
Lots of people believe that riding public transportation is expensive, complicated, and time consuming. In fact, you might be surprised by how far the public transportation system in your town or city can take you. Apps like Citymapper, Transit, and Moovit can make your city exploration or commute efficient and easy.
The average American emits about 3.2 tons of carbon on their commute every year; take public transportation and cut your carbon footprint by almost a quarter!
10. Service your car regularly
If public transportation isn’t feasible for you, you can still help your car reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The most efficient cars are the ones that are well-serviced. According to Exxon, you can improve your car’s fuel efficiency by taking care of five major tasks: fixing car issues right away, checking your tire pressure, shifting into a higher gear or traveling on highways as much as possible, upgrading your motor oil, and changing your air filters.
11. Learn about electric car rebates
You might be surprised to learn that electric vehicles are more affordable than you thought. With lots of options for state and federal rebates, chances are you’ll be able to find an electric car at comparable prices to classic fuel cars. Estimates show that total emissions from electric cars are up to half as much as a fuel car.
12. Check your tire pressure
You can improve your fuel efficiency by 0.6% to 3%, just by making sure your tire pressure is at the correct level. This can be done quickly and easily at any service station and at many gas stations. Checking your car’s tire pressure regularly can reduce your personal greenhouse gas emissions without having to make change your daily routines.
13. Cycle or walk when possible
The least impactful mode of transportation is our own bodies. For short trips, consider skipping the bus or the quick car ride to walk or bike there. A study published in ScienceDaily showed that swapping just one car ride for a walk or bike per day results in 0.5 tons of carbon saved in a year. Besides reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll be moving your body and reaping the health benefits of that movement.
14. Combine trips
As you plan your days and weeks, cutting down on car trips by running multiple errands at once can reduce your carbon footprint. If you have the time, set aside an afternoon to accomplish multiple tasks while you’re out. Using the same carpool mentality, you’ll be able to cut down your emissions and increase efficiency in your own life!
15. Carpool with friends and coworkers
If you live nearby to a coworker or friend, or if they live on the way to your destination, take the time to offer to pick them up. The carbon emissions required to go a few minutes out of your way to pick them up are far lower than two or more cars heading to the same destination. Just driving with one other person can reduce your carbon footprint by 1 ton over the course of a year.
16. Carbon offsets for flights
According to Terrapass, about 1,000 miles of air travel equates to 500 pounds of carbon emissions per passenger. Flights are necessary at times, and it’s important not to feel excessive shame or guilt for participating in flying. Connecting to the rest of the world through travel is incredible, which means having an option to purchase a carbon offset can reduce the carbon footprint of your flight.
8 changes to make around the house to reduce your carbon footprint
Over 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from household consumption. There are so many ways to reduce how much carbon your home produces, but here are 8 of the simplest or most effective to implement today.
17. Switch to LED lights
LED lights emit the smallest amount of carbon out of all other light source options. The energy required for lighting accounts for 5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of people assume LED lights are harsh and cool-toned, but the magic of LED is that you can find warm and soft lighting options while reducing your carbon footprint.
18. Find secondhand furniture and appliances
Besides saving you tons of money and allowing you to create a truly unique home style that is all your own, prioritizing secondhand furniture and appliances instead of new allows you to cut out the emissions required to manufacture brand new items. Though it might take a little extra time, reaching out to your community, surfing Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, and heading out on secondhand shopping adventures will make your home more sustainable and your carbon footprint smaller.
19. Slowly make sustainable swaps
You don’t have to stress about making sustainable swaps throughout your home all at once. While it’s true that swapping out most of your single use and plastic items will help to reduce your carbon footprint, you don’t need to spend tons of money making it happen. Simply picking up a more sustainable option once what you have has run out will make it easier to shift into a lower impact lifestyle. There are so many eco-friendly kitchen appliance options on the market today. Plus, you can come up with creative uses for what you already have on hand instead of buying new.
Did you know that more than 1 billion phone cases are produced every single year? They are typically used for 1-2 years, and then will spend centuries in landfills or in our oceans. Make a switch to compostable phone cases like Pela case that will protect both your phone and the planet!
20. Install a heat pump in your home
This would probably be the biggest investment and have the biggest impact on your carbon footprint. If you have your own home, installing a heat pump as part of your heating and cooling system will make your home so much more efficient. A heat pump works by transferring warm air efficiently from one place to another. You will save on your energy bill because heat pumps have a much lower carbon footprint than a furnace, for example.
21. Switch to smart thermostat
Smart thermostats give you total control over your home’s temperature, and it gives you an opportunity to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Smart thermostats can lower your carbon footprint by increasing setting capabilities, remote control of your home’s temperature, and creating efficiencies in your home’s temperature maintenance. Besides improving your home’s carbon footprint, you’ll also be saving money on your energy bill.
22. Repair before buying new
We’ve talked about how buying new increases your carbon footprint. When you immediately replace something with a newer version, you’re contributing to the landfills and missing out on the more sustainable option. Before you throw something away, try to see if it can be repaired. Make some calls around your local community or look up repair instructions online. Sometimes, the lowest impact action we can take is simply keeping our old things.
23. Get a home energy consultation
One of the best things you can do to reduce your home’s carbon footprint is to schedule a home energy assessment. The experts can evaluate your home and help you seal and insulate your home where heat is most likely to escape. The great thing about this idea is that you only have to do it once; you don’t have to add an extra step into your daily life and you can be saving energy without lifting a finger.
24. Invest in renewables and efficient appliances
While replacing appliances with eco-friendly versions might be expensive all at once, if you make slow swaps over time, you’ll be happy to boast a smaller carbon footprint. Star Energy appliances are built for efficiency, which means you can rest easy knowing you are making the right choices for you and for the environment. There are tons of other eco-friendly swaps you can make, but be sure to start small at first.
8 shopping habits to learn so you can reduce your carbon footprint
Shopping retailers are responsible for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon dioxide requirements of manufacturing, transporting, and maintaining storefronts require tons of energy and can be highly unsustainable. Let’s look at 8 important ways to shift your shopping habits and reduce your carbon footprint.
25. Shop vintage and secondhand
The global fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions every year and makes up 10% of annual greenhouse emissions. Skip out on these emissions altogether by shopping secondhand and vintage. There are so many amazing clothes out there. Thrift stores, vintage shops, estate sales, and online shops like Depop are all great options for secondhand shopping.
26. Shop local and small
Fast fashion is the heaviest hitter when it comes to carbon emissions. Without any changes to the status quo, the fashion industry could make up 26% of carbon emissions by 2050. To combat those numbers while still participating in the best parts of the industry, get to know your local shops and boutiques. There are so many small businesses who are working on mindful clothing lines. If you’d rather buy new, go for the small and local shops.
27. Shop less and buy more meaningfully
When you’re shopping, try to only buy clothes you know you’ll wear at least 10 times. Be mindful of your motivation for buying. Do your best to buy only what you need.
Capsule wardrobes are a great way to combat the unsustainable consumption of fashion. There are tons of resources out there about how to create a capsule wardrobe, but the most important tip is to only keep clothes that you absolutely love. Resist buying new clothes if you don’t need them or don’t truly love them; this practice will keep your carbon footprint small.
28. Research sustainable companies
Buying new is unavoidable at times. Whether our clothes don’t fit or our item can’t be fixed, buying something new can still be possible with a little bit of mindfulness. Taking the extra time to research online and find a company that shares your values can be a great way to push back against unsustainable consumption. When companies show you their commitment to a small carbon footprint, you can feel better in your choice to order from them.
29. Make thoughtful choices
Material, packaging, methods, and more all matter. Unsustainable shopping is made so easy; with one-day delivery subscriptions, tons of plastic packaging, and intentionally short lifespans of our devices, it can be hard to resist these practices. Staying mindful while shopping can save you money, reduce anxiety and clutter, and shrink your carbon footprint.
30. Learn how to mend clothes
It might seem easier to replace clothes that have a busted seam or a hole in the knee. In fact, you can reduce your carbon footprint and add a touch of personal style by practicing some old-fashioned mending techniques. Mending is most often done with a needle and some embroidery thread, but you can also add small patches and other pieces of fabric to create a unique look. There are tons of mending guides out there, so don’t be intimidated to try your hand at repairing your favorite before you throw them away!
31. Bring your own bags
One easy swap for shopping days: bring your own bags to the store. Whether they’re canvas, paper, or your school backpack, saying no to plastic bags is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. The carbon emissions of one single use plastic bag is equal to driving 5 miles in a gas car. Avoid those emissions altogether by bringing along a reusable bag.
32. Plan clothing swap parties
Love the idea of freshening up your wardrobe but don’t want to spend any extra money? Plan a clothing swap party with your friends or your neighbors. You can rest assured knowing your old clothes aren’t headed to the landfill and are instead going to a new home where they’ll be well-loved. Plus, you get to score some new pieces without spending a dime or contributing to the fast fashion industry.
We’ve talked about 32 ways to address your personal environmental impact, but there are so many more ways you can help. It’s also important to remember that the climate crisis is a global issue that must be a collective effort; corporations and governments are as responsible for reducing their carbon emissions as individuals are. Through our actions, like taking public transportation and composting (even if it’s indoors!), we can reduce our own carbon footprint and our collective environmental impact.
Written by: Jess Savage