Homeowner Blog

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: a 12 Month Plan

George Riley 15 Jan 2020

More and more of us are becoming aware of the urgency of the need to decarbonise our lifestyles. The latest warning from the IPCC gives us only 10 years to cut global emissions in half, or risk catastrophic damage to our climate. Whether you’ve gone solar or not, you may be thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint. But where do you start?

We’ve put some ideas together into a 12 step plan, so you can tackle one of these points each month throughout the year. This helps to avoid burning out by focusing on one area at a time, and making it more likely any changes will stick. Some of them may prove too challenging for your personal circumstances, but they’re still worth being aware of even if you can’t yet implement them in your own life. Each will make a significant impact towards cutting your personal greenhouse gas emissions as well as influencing broader positive changes in society.

Let’s dive in.

1. Switch to renewable energy supplier

Household electricity use accounts for 16% of an average person’s carbon footprint. But where does our electricity come from?

2018/2019 UK fuel mix (average of all suppliers)

Coal

5%

Gas

41%

Nuclear

19%

Renewables

33%

Other (e.g. imports)

2%

Data source: Electricity Info (where you can also check mix by individual supplier).

The good news is we can now easily choose to go with a supplier that sources its power only from renewables (of which there are quite a few). While this won’t decarbonise the actual electrons flowing into your home (all sources are mixed up in the grid), it will mean your money is going towards investments in clean energy rather than further fossil fuel extraction and incineration.

One thing to watch out for: some companies only buy renewable ‘certificates’ to make up their supply, while others actively invest in new wind turbines, solar farms etc.

2. Energy efficiency in the home

An estimated third of all energy is wasted in UK homes. While much of that is due to our notoriously old housing stock, there are a few things you can do to save energy:

  • Home insulation - loft, cavity wall and even floor insulation can stack up to big savings on heating.
  • Efficient appliances - look for efficient models (most electricals have a European energy efficiency grade) when replacing or upgrading boilers, washing machines, fridges etc.
  • Lighting - LEDs are up to 90% more efficient than traditional halogen bulbs for the same brightness, and last up to 25 years. It makes both financial and carbon-saving sense (including manufacturing emissions) to upgrade bulbs now rather than waiting for them to blow.
  • Behavioural shifts - turning lights off when not in use, washing clothes at a cooler temperature, keeping the thermostat in check - all make a difference.

3. Eat meat-free

Agriculture and the food industry incorporate a whole range of climate-harming effects, from deforestation and water usage to long-distance transportation of goods and livestock emissions.

Rearing animals for meat or other products like dairy is much more energy and space intensive than growing plants. You need to grow a lot of crops to feed them all! Adapting to a vegetarian diet can reduce food-based emissions by 32% and a vegan diet by 48%. A plant-based diet only requires a quarter of the farmland too, opening up potential areas for wildlife and reforestation.

If cutting out meat completely for a whole month is too much, try scaling back as much as you can.

4. Travelling without a car

Could you ditch the car for a month? Private vehicles account for 18% of all emissions in Europe. Electric cars are fast coming of age, but they’re still not the greenest form of transport. Challenging yourself to go car-free will take a bit of a logistical forward-planning at times. I said goodbye to my car in October and since then the local bus app and Wiggle’s cycle department have become firm friends.

5. Invest in renewables

There’s only so long you can wait for power companies to clean up their supply, before you have to take it into your own hands. Fortunately, this is now more achievable than ever. Solar panel prices have fallen by over 50% in the past decade (and we know some great installers…). Pair that with a battery or power diverter and you’re well on your way to running your home from the sun.

But if you can’t afford the upfront cost of solar, have a look into local community energy projects. These give you the chance to invest a small amount in a nearby solar farm, or panels on a community building, and share in some of the savings.

Cottage solar panels

6. No fly holiday

Air travel will prove perhaps the hardest activity to become emission-free. It’s also one of the most impactful, spewing tonnes of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases directly into the upper atmosphere. A roundtrip from London to New York is equivalent to 1.2 tonnes of C02 emissions per passenger. For the average person, this constitutes around 22% of their yearly carbon footprint. Pretty steep for a single holiday.

Instead, pledge to take a summer vacation by car or rail. There are plenty of interesting UK cities, charming coastlines and train-accessible stops on the continent (Sweden has actually seen a fall in flights due to climate concern). It’s worth avoiding big cruise ships though - their emissions are 2.5 times that of a plane per passenger per km.

7. Lobby the powers that be

The harsh reality is that there’s only so much impact an individual’s lifestyle adjustments can make. And without fundamental changes across society, we’re unlikely to reign in runaway climate change. So alongside working on your own habits, use your right as a citizen to demand more from government. Write letters, ask questions, vote meaningfully and join protests - the global demonstrations throughout 2019 are already having an impact in policy and national conversation.

8. Rethink how you buy clothes

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of worldwide emissions, driven in recent years by the rise in fast fashion and throwaway garments. From heavy water use to excessive pesticides and poisonous dyes, this big business is brutalising many ecosystems. While there are more sustainable brands coming on the market, the strongest way to cut your contribution is by not buying new.

Wear clothes for longer. Repair them if they’re damaged. Donate old clothes and shop second-hand. Look for a local clothes swap in your area or use an app version.

9. Take action locally

It’s very empowering to take physical action against climate change, especially if you can do so as part of a community group. This could be anything from tree planting (even in your garden) to a beach clean. Research climate action networks in your area to find some upcoming events.

10. Repair not replace

How often do you consider the ‘embodied carbon’ of new products you buy - the energy that went into making them? Not only that, but the carbon cost of transport and disposal or recycling. For many items, that energy requirement can far outweigh that from its lifetime use - for example, Apple estimates that 83% of a MacBook’s emissions come from production, transport and recycling, and only 17% from customer use.

While this makes it worthwhile investing in items (be they clothes or furniture) that are built to last, it’s also beneficial to repair products when you can to extend their lifespan. This is a habit many of us have lost, so next time something in your house breaks, make a pledge to look into getting it repaired rather than throwing it away. A good start is finding a local Repair Café, where experts can help you mend electricals, furniture and clothing.

repairing computer

11. Divest your bank account

While thinking about your personal carbon footprint, it’s easy to forget your indirect impact. Most banks continue to invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry, furthering expansion and locking us into future emissions. Are you happy with them using your money in this way?

Here’s how much some of the major UK banks have invested in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, when global leaders agreed on swift action to limit warming:

Bank

Financing in 2016-2018

Fossil fuel companies

Fossil fuel expansion

Barclays

$85 billion

$24 billion

HSBC

$58 billion

$19 billion

Santander

$15 billion

$8 billion

RBS/Natwest

$4 billion

$2 billion

Data source: Bank Track.

The number of fossil fuel-free banks in the UK is limited, but there are other renewable investment opportunities (see this thorough guide to divesting). If you’re planning to switch, letting your current bank know the reason will help ramp up pressure on the finance industry to decarbonise its investments.

12. Share your experiences

Avoiding climate and environmental destruction is only possible if everybody makes significant lifestyle changes (alongside dramatic shifts in government, business and society). So take the time to talk to people about how your efforts to reduce emissions have gone over the past year. Discuss the challenges, the surprises and the changes you’ll stick to. You may well start inspiring friends and family to take action too.

There are plenty of other ways - big and small - to reduce your carbon footprint, but hopefully this list will prove a starting point for practical and impactful steps you can take this year. Whether you aim for one step a month, or pick those that are most achievable, you’ll be helping to improve your impact on the planet. Let us know how you get on.

Topics: LED lighting, Solar PV

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