The reason why my husband Brad and I decided to create the Tamborasi blog was so we could research and communicate ways that everyday people can reduce their carbon footprint.
There are so many clickbait-y articles that pop up that might offer less than accurate or easy advice to make this happen, so we wanted to create a solid resource here that will be easy and helpful, and that you can return to as needed.
First, What is a “Carbon Footprint”?
As defined by The Nature Conservancy, person’s carbon footprint is “the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans have the highest carbon footprint, averaging over 16 tons/year (globally, people are averaging 4 tons/year).
If you’re wondering how your lifestyle fits into this, you can head over to the Nature Conservancy’s website and calculate your own carbon footprint here.
It’s fulfilling to see those numbers go down over time while you make gradual changes like the ones listed here. So let’s dive into these easy things you can start doing today to reduce your carbon footprint and give the planet a bit of a breather.
1. Eat Less Meat and Dairy, More Plants
You may have seen the famous Netflix documentary about this called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, or an array of other plant based documentaries. I was personally really surprised to learn from the research that “Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.” Check out all of the research, data, and sources from Cowspiracy here.
You may also be surprised to learn that “Pound for pound, meat has a much higher water footprint than vegetables, grains or beans. A single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce” (FoodPrint.org). Dairy products also have a much higher water and carbon footprint due to the water and feed needed for the animals throughout their lifetime.
While it can be a major challenge to switch to a fully vegan diet, cutting down on animal products and increasing plant-based foods will absolutely still make a positive impact on your carbon footprint. And the great news is we’re living in a time where companies are making amazingly tasty meat-alternatives that still satisfy that craving and make the swap easier (Gardein and Beyond Burger are my personal favorites).
2. Cut Down on Air Travel
The second best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to cut down on air travel. I get it, traveling is amazing, and it would be next to impossible to avoid flying altogether. But if you can reduce your flying each year, and think about more sustainable travel like trains or buses, you can make a difference.
As an example, it is estimated that “a roundtrip journey across the Atlantic emits about 2 tons of CO2, enough to melt about 30 square feet of Arctic ice” (NPR, 2019). When you look it the data with that perspective, it may make it a bit easier to reconsider multiple vacations per year.
If you absolutely have to keep flying, you may consider purchasing carbon offsets. Doing this allows you to compensate for the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions you produce traveling by reducing emissions elsewhere, into industries like clean energy, planting trees, and so on. You can learn more as well as purchase these at Sustainable Travel International.
3. Buy Local, In-Season Produce
Not only does in-season food taste MUCH better than food shipped across the world, it’s much cleaner for the environment as well. This is because the food isn’t being flown, shipped, and driven thousands of miles wrapped in tons of packaging and using lots of energy for refrigeration, etc.
Additionally, local farmers typically care about their land and environment and take better measures to protect their land. If you’re wondering what practices they’re taking (whether they spray their produce or don’t, for example), they’re right there to ask personally. And when shopping, bringing your own reusable produce bags and grocery bags will help cut down on unnecessary plastic.
You can also grow your own fruits and vegetables, which is a great way to really appreciate your food and provides a therapeutic outlet as well. There are countless gardening blogs to read to get started. If you’re an absolute beginner, the Farmer’s Almanac has some great tips here.
4. Use Your Car Less
Along with air travel, driving cars is a large contributor of greenhouse gases. According to National Geographic, “Vehicles are America’s biggest air quality compromisers, producing about one-third of all U.S. air pollution. The smog, carbon monoxide, and other toxins emitted by vehicles are especially troubling because they leave tailpipes at street level, where humans breathe the polluted air directly into their lungs.”
While many of us rely on the ease and convenience of jumping in the car to run errands, get to work, etc., it is not only better for the environment but so much healthier to walk and bike to these places, especially as our jobs are making us more and more sedentary.
Another thing you can do to reduce driving is to work remotely a few days a week if your position allows it. This is especially helpful if your job has a considerable commute.
5. Look at Your Home Energy Use
Home energy use is also a factor in increasing or decreasing your carbon footprint. We all know that turning off lights, lowering the thermostat and using less water makes a difference.
But did you know that line drying your clothes reduces your CO2 emissions significantly. According to the Guardian, “A household running a dryer 200 times a year could save nearly half a ton of CO2e by switching to a clothes rack or washing line.” Even if you line-dry during part of the year, this still will make a difference in the long run.
And when you’re in the market for a new appliance, getting one with an “Energy Star” rating will also reduce your impact during use. This rating ensures the product is certified by the EPA to indicate it is a more environmentally-friendly appliance option compared to non-certified appliances.
And lastly, consider replacing your standard light bulbs with LED bulbs to also make a difference. GreenMatters highlighted a study showing that “570 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions were reduced thanks to the use of LED bulbs, an amount similar to shutting down 162 coal-fired power plants around the world.” Thankfully LED bulbs are cost-effective and will also save you money on your electric bill.
6. Buy Less “Stuff” (and Save Money!)
This may come as no surprise, but buying less stuff that you don’t need will save water, electricity, fuel (for shipping) and will reduce your environmental impact.
A trick I learned is that if I want something, or feel that I need it, I add it to my Amazon cart to save for later, and check back in a month to see if I still need it. 90% of the time, I end up deleting it and not only reduce my spending, but my carbon footprint as well.
If you’re in the market for furniture, clothes, decor, etc., buying second-hand is a much more sustainable option and will save you SO much money.
If I’m not shopping at my local thrift stores, I like to check out ThredUp for online secondhand clothes. Their selection is always changing and the pricing is affordable (although not as cheap as Goodwill).
Along with Goodwill or Facebook Marketplace for second-hand furniture shopping, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores have furniture, home goods, appliances, and building supplies. Definitely check them out, and happy hunting!
Making Changes Can Feel Overwhelming…
So let’s combat the overwhelm that we can sometimes feel and just know that making small changes in your day to day adds up in the long run.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t fully commit to living a zero-waste lifestyle. Focus on the small changes and after a while, you may notice they’ve added up into a larger lifestyle shift. But it’s okay if not!
You Can Do It!
Don’t feel like you have to tackle everything on this list all at once. Doing one or a just a few of these will make a difference in reducing your overall carbon footprint.
I do want to mention that there are so many other actions you can take that aren’t on this list, which we will definitely cover in later blog posts. If you’d like to take even more action now, be sure to also check out New York Times’ comprehensive guide: How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.
In the meantime, I hope this list gives you a few ways you can get started to “greenify” your life a bit 🙂