Offsetting the CO2 emissions we produce every day can be an intimidating notion — especially for those of us who don’t exactly know where to start. (Guilty as charged!) However, your personal contribution to climate change doesn’t have to disrupt life as you know it for a measurable impact to take place. Whether you’re changing the way you commute to and from work or reducing your home energy carbon footprint by eating locally-produced food, there are plenty of easy ways to do your part. Here are a couple to get you started.
Wait, so what is a carbon footprint?
To fully wrap your head around the ways to reduce your carbon footprint, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with the subject matter at hand. Your carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gases emissions produced by a product or service. Greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases) are produced, for example, every time you drive a car or ride an airplane. In 2019 alone, the U.S. emitted 6.6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases. Of that number the EPA found 29% of greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation; cars, planes, boats — you get the picture.
Get to know your carbon footprint
Everybody’s carbon footprint is going to be different depending on where you live and what you do. Someone living off-the-grid off the Appalachian trail likely has a lower carbon footprint than some whose commute involves driving to and from the train every day. The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator makes it easy to get a sense of ways your greenhouse gas emissions are impacting the earth. The average carbon footprint for an American is a staggering 16 tons.
The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project concluded in order to keep the earth from heating up, literally every person on earth will have to produce a carbon footprint of 1.87 tons by the year 2050. Here are some ways to get started.
Obviously, not everyone has the kind of time, money, or privilege to simply drive less; some people’s whole lives depend on their car. Considering the average car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, cutting out driving just two days a week can drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per year. Switching to public transportation like the bus cuts your emissions by half, while riding a bike emits ten times less greenhouse gases than a car!
When it comes to saving the environment, keep the word “local” in your brain. Local. Local. L-O-C-A-L. Consider this: supermarket chains use anywhere from four to 17 times more petroleum to transport the food you could get at a farmer’s market. Shopping locally is, not only, a way to boost the local economy but help cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions caused by delivering food on an international level.
The same goes for fast fashion; know why $15 for a pair of selvedge denim jeans seems too good to be true? Because it is! Overseas shipping puts a major strain on the environment. The textile industry alone emits just under 3 billion metric tons of CO2 every year. So, buy local, shop secondhand, and try saying no those $2 tee shirts you’ll only wear once anyway.
I didn’t know anything about making my home energy efficient until I became a homeowner. My wife and I knew we wanted to make our house as green as possible — so we hired a local company to perform an energy audit on the house. This is basically just an inspection survey that estimates the energy conservation of a building. Within 15 minutes, we knew we were losing a lot of heat from the basement because of the lack of insulation.
Colder temps mean higher heat, which means more gases emitted. There’s more you can do than cutting down on your heat usage — switching to LED lights. The EPS recently concluded if everyone in the U.S. were to replace one light bulb with an LED bulb, greenhouse gases could be reduced by 9 billion pounds.
Whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime vacation or just another weekend living in luxury, travel is impossible to avoid. Eric Zimmerman founded TripZero as a means to reduce the carbon footprint he thought he’d already successfully erased years prior. Here’s how it works: TripZero calculates the carbon footprint created by your trip and offsets that footprint by funding both reforestation and renewable energy projects. On a smaller, level, you can pay a little extra to take direct flights (thus cutting down on fuel for multiple flights) and stay in hostels or boutique b&bs in lieu of massive energy-wasting hotel chains.
Those of us who learned about the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — in school know about the power of these letters. In our younger days, this meant separating trash into two different cans. Now, thankfully, companies are finally playing ball by investing in reusable materials. You can find paper straws in most Chipotles around the country while big consumer brands are investing over $50 million in the recycling infrastructure.
While keeping in mind that it’s large corporations that contribute the most greenhouse gas emissions, it’s nice to know the big wigs are playing ball. I bet you can do even better with a few tiny lifestyle changes like limiting the amount of meat you consume on a weekly basis (the meat and dairy industries emit 7.1 gigatons of greenhouses gases annually — yikes), biking to work, and simply turning off the lights when you leave the room.
By Jeremy Glass, July 19, 2021