How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

Every day, each of us makes lifestyle decisions that add up to what is known as our carbon footprint. If you’re interested in leading a cleaner, greener lifestyle for not just future generations’ sake, but your own, read on to discover how to reduce your carbon footprint.

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Plane contributing to carbon footprint taking off

In this guide you'll find information relating to:

  • What does carbon mean?

  • What is my carbon footprint?

  • How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

  • Renewable energy

  • Planet-friendly plants 

  • How can I offset emissions with carbon footprint insurance?

What does carbon mean?

In this case, ‘carbon’ refers to carbon dioxide, a compound that’s formed when fossil fuels are burned. Driving your car and using your oven are examples of everyday tasks that release carbon dioxide. 

As carbon dioxide is released, it builds up in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, trapping sunlight and warming the planet. Global warming is caused by this feedback loop of burning fossil fuels, releasing carbon emissions and trapping sunlight. 

The UK has agreed, along with many other countries, to reduce overall carbon emissions to achieve a net zero by 2050. We can all help do our part by reducing our personal carbon footprints.

What is my carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint refers to your individual carbon emissions. Your footprint doesn’t just include direct actions like burning petrol to drive your car, but it includes the many indirect ways in which carbon is released to support your lifestyle, such as the manufacturing process of products you consume. It also includes the fuel burned in the supply chain to deliver those products to your home. 

Because so many variables are involved, it’s hard to clearly define what your carbon footprint is on a precise scale. Yet once you determine what contributes to your carbon footprint, you can start making small lifestyle changes to reduce it. According to the Energy Saving Trust, domestic households account for 30% of the UK’s annual CO2 production, so what we do at home makes a difference. 

How is a carbon footprint measured?

You can see a rough calculation and breakdown of your carbon footprint using an online calculator. Many environmental and political organisations include this on their websites. For example, you can calculate your footprint through the World Wildlife Fund or the United Nations websites.

No matter the tool, it will ask you a few basic questions. You’ll be asked how much energy your home uses, the number of flights you’ve taken, what your diet is like, and how you travel to work each day.

How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

Lifestyle changes begin at home, where you’ll find there are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

Reduce consumption

Start by reducing the amount of energy you consume to heat your home. Look to install insulation, draught-proof your windows and doors, keep your radiators bled and replace an inefficient boiler. According to the Energy Saving Trust, roughly half of UK homes use inefficient gas or oil boilers. Replace these with an efficient condensing model instead, along with heating controls to monitor your consumption. Not only will your carbon footprint drop, so too will your bills – quite dramatically in some cases.

There are plenty of ways you can reduce your electricity consumption too. Make small changes in the kitchen like only running the dishwasher when it’s full or look to hang your clothing outside whenever possible instead of using the dryer. 

When drying clothes indoors, try to position your airer close to a radiator or on the landing of a two-storey home to take advantage of the fact heat rises. Speaking of rising heat, space your clothes out evenly, and place heavier clothes at the top of the airer, with lighter clothes like your underwear on the bottom rungs.

Renewable energy

Consider switching to a renewable energy plan. These promise greener sources of energy, using wind or solar power. You can compare energy options to find a deal that’s both sustainable and affordable, but keep in mind that this type of plan won’t necessarily be the cheapest option on the market.  

Planet-friendly plants 

Do you have a green thumb? Whether you live in a flat or a house, try planting something green. A garden offers a relaxing, simple way to reduce your carbon footprint. This is because plants absorb carbon dioxide. Balcony or rooftop gardens can add a splash of greenery in the city and are good for physical and mental health too (spending time in nature is known to lower blood pressure), while suburban and rural gardens can be planted with flowers to help support the bee population. 

How can I reduce my carbon footprint in the kitchen? 

One of the biggest changes you can make at home is to adjust your diet. 

Go vegan

A meat-free lifestyle is one of the top ways to reduce your carbon footprint. An Oxford University study estimates that there would be a 49% reduction in greenhouse gases from food production if we all went vegan.  Whether you opt for meat-free Mondays or change to a permanent plant-based diet, this helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, a major contributor to global emissions. 

Eat local

It’s not just meat that has an impact on our carbon footprints. Flying in fruit and vegetables from across the world can increase a personal carbon footprint. At the same time, food grown in energy-intensive polytunnels also contributes to the issue. Try to eat local, seasonal produce where possible. 

Cook efficiently 

Once you have your ingredients, you can reduce your carbon footprint in the kitchen by minding how you prepare your meal. When boiling potatoes or pasta, only use just enough water to cover them. Boil your kettle with only the amount of water you need for a cup of tea. Keep the oven door closed when preparing a roast, to lock in heat, and consider switching the oven off 10 minutes early, using the heat inside the oven to finish cooking your food. These simple steps, as well as plenty of other energy-efficient cooking techniques, add up over time. 

Reduce food waste by only buying what you need to avoid spoilage. When food waste ends up in the landfill, it releases harmful methane gas, so if you can, consider composting leftovers to enrich the soil in your own garden and help your own plants grow.

How can I reduce my carbon footprint when travelling?

Not everyone has the luxury of making fewer journeys, but the following tips will help to reduce what is a major contributor to carbon emissions: road and air travel.

Consider purchasing an electric or hybrid car so that you’re not so reliant on petrol. Driving an electric car can also cut your fuel costs significantly; but be sure to factor in how your electricity bills might change and look for tariffs that make electricity cheaper during the small hours to allow you to charge your car battery at a reduced cost overnight. In addition, you may also benefit from the fact that many businesses now offer free charging stations. 

Flying is a major source of carbon emissions. A single long-haul flight from London to New York produces 986kg of carbon dioxide per passenger. That’s more than the annual carbon emissions of citizens in 56 other countries. Travel closer to home when possible, limiting overseas flights to special occasions. When you do fly, pick economy class to share the plane’s overall carbon cost with more passengers.

Why use a vehicle at all? When getting around town, use public transport, walk, or cycle to your destination. It’s better for you, and for the planet. When you do need to drive, look to carpool by sharing the commute with others.

How can I reduce my carbon footprint as a consumer?

The products we buy all contribute to our carbon footprint. From clothing to electronics, here’s how to save. 

Fast fashion 

This is one of the biggest problems in the retail space, with cheap clothing designed to be worn just a few times and discarded. The fashion production process expels more CO2 than the shipping and aviation industries combined, and all these high street fashions create one million tonnes of waste per year. When you buy new clothing, look for pieces that you’ll wear for the long term. Even better, look for clothing made from sustainable, natural materials to avoid plastic pollution, or shop second-hand. 

Tech

Upgrading to the latest model of smartphone every year comes with a high carbon price tag. All the metal and plastic components that go into these types of electronics create a huge carbon footprint. Apple’s production figures show that 80 percent of a product’s footprint comes from production, rather than its use once completed. 

As with clothing, buy products built to last – try supporting innovative technologies like the Fairphone 3, an easily repairable and upgradeable phone designed to last for five years or more. Reuse and recycle used tech whenever possible. 

How can I offset emissions with carbon footprint insurance?

There are an increasing number of schemes designed to help offset carbon emissions. The insurance industry is one example, with footprint insurance plans for your home and car from companies like the Co-op. For every plan you buy, the company purchases carbon offsets to promote sustainable development and renewable energy. This could be tree planting, solar power installation or capturing landfill gas. 

You can also buy travel insurance policies that promise to contribute to carbon offsetting plans. This doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to insurance. You can pledge to offset emissions yourself every time you travel by contributing to a carbon offset scheme.

Last updated: 9 November 2020