5 (or so) Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Ok, so let’s face it.  You want to reduce your carbon footprint, but you still need to get to work and soccer practice.  Growing all your own food sounds romantic, but you’re not turning your backyard (if you have one) into Old McDonald’s farm (although the kids might love it), and you’ve grown kind of fond of electricity.  So, what’s a person to do? 

In today’s world, there are parts of our lives that, for now at least, bring a carbon footprint with them (i.e. cars, many foods, light, heat).  Carbon offsets offer us a way to balance those parts of our footprint, but offsets by themselves are not enough. 

Many ideas exist to help make a difference in our carbon consumption, and they’re not as hard as you may think.

Here are just a few tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint, and start making change personal. 

1. Throw the Switch:  One of the easiest ways to reduce your electricity bill is to, well, not use electricity.  Simple, right?  This boils down to building awareness of what around you is using power when it isn’t needed. 

  • Lights are an easy one.  Turn them off when you’re not in the room.
  • That refrigerator door?  Make sure it’s closed tightly each time you’re done staring into it wondering what to make for dinner.
  • Is your laptop/tablet/phone/other indispensable electronic device fully charged?  Unplug it!  It’s better for the earth and your device.
  • Unplugging also goes for other electronics such as desktop computers, microwaves, toasters, TVs and DVD players.  Turning them off is not enough.  Be kind - unplug.

2. Water, Water Everywhere: Or not. California is currently facing one of the worst droughts on record, and many other parts of the globe are suffering as well.  Here are a few easy ways to help conserve this precious resource:

  • Give your laundry the cold shoulder:  90% of the energy that goes into washing clothes is used to heat the water.  Washing in cold is an easy way to reduce energy use (up to 350 pounds of carbon emissions eliminated for an average household), and it gets clothes just as clean.  ‘Nuf said!
  • Shower yourself with savings:  Taking showers makes up nearly 17% of residential indoor water usage.  Switching to a high efficiency showerhead can save up to 2,900 gallons of water a year for an average family.  High efficiency showerheads are designed to reduce the amount of water used while still maintaining water pressure (because, really, rinsing shouldn’t be stressful).  Many water utilities now offer water saving showerheads for free.  Get something for free and save energy?  What’s not to love?!
  • Wait, wait!:  Save doing your dishes and laundry until you have a full load.  This saves energy, and you don’t have to feel guilty when finding the other thousand things you’d rather be doing than dishes or laundry. 

3. Take a Turn for the Better: Well, without melting or freezing that is.  Being safe and comfortable in our living spaces is important, but small changes can make a big difference.

  • Hey! Turn that thing down!:  Dialing down central heating just a degree saves energy and can reduce your heating bill by around 8%.  Another bonus - one more reason to wear cozy socks and that awesome sweater Grandma knitted for your birthday. 
  • Hey! Turn that thing up!:  Dialing up the thermostat when the heat’s on can also save energy.  Setting the thermostat to cool at or above 78 degrees is a good guideline.  Sound too hot?  There are ways to help the A/C along and make your house feel more comfortable:

                     - Close the Curtains - Especially if your windows face west and get the full brunt of the afternoon sun.  Natural light is great, but the added heat - not so much.  Do open your curtains back up in the evening, though, to allow heat to escape through the windows. 

                    - Turn on a Fan - Getting a nice breeze going can help reduce the strain on your air conditioner and may allow you to set your thermostat above 78 degrees especially at night.  Even better - try turning it off altogether!  Fans use far less energy to run than A/C.

                   - Add Some Shade - Planting shrubs and bushes near your A/C can help it run more efficiently and cool your house using less energy.  At the same time your plants are adding oxygen to the air and reducing carbon dioxide.  Cool. 

4. Bye, Buy Carbon:  What and where we buy makes a difference.  Being aware of our choices and shopping smart can help.  It’s not as hard as you may think.  You just need to know where to look.  

  • Eat Local:  If possible, try to buy locally grown foods as well as fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area.  This cuts down on transportation emissions, and you get fresher food to boot!  Here’s a link to finding locally grown produce in your area - http://www.localharvest.org
  • Grow Your Own:  Try growing some fruits and vegetables yourself.  There are many varieties designed to be grown in smaller spaces, and talk about cutting down on transportation emissions!  Need a tomato for that sandwich?  Just a second - I’ll be right back.  Here’s a link to get you started - http://home.howstuffworks.com/starting-a-vegetable-garden.htm
  • Drink Local:  Really local, like your kitchen faucet.  If your tap H2O is safe to drink, avoid buying bottled water.  Manufacturing plastic bottles uses millions of gallons of crude oil each year, and they often end up in lakes, rivers, or landfills.  If you do need to buy bottled water, don’t forget to recycle!  Here’s a link to find out more about the impact of bottled water - http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water/webinar/CorporateAccountability_ProblemsWithBottledWater.pdf
  • A Little Research Goes A Long Way:  There are lots of eco-friendly products out there and more in the works.  Finding ways to get what you need and still be kind to the earth involves a little surfing but can be well worth it.  Here’s a link to help you navigate the eco waters -  http://www.ecoevaluator.com/lifestyle/green-basics/what-are-eco-friendly-products.html

5. Are We There Yet?: Transportation is a big part of our lives.  When and how we get places soaks up a lot of mental bandwidth and time from each day and is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.  The good news?  If you know how, traveling smart can make a huge contribution in reducing your carbon footprint. 

  • Getting There is Half the Fun:  Have you ever been stuck in traffic and secretly cursed the city bus as it blew by you on the shoulder?  Or scowled as the crossing arms dropped and the commuter train rushed by?  Americans love their cars, but they are an expensive, and often slower way, of getting around especially in the city. Why not be one of those lucky souls zooming by on the bus or train and try public transportation?  Public buses can take up to 10 pounds of carbon out the air per trip and subways up to 20!  That’s a savings of nearly 37 million metric tons of carbon a year.  Plus, you can check your emails and texts while not also doing the driving!
  • Car Pools, Cycles, and Feet, Oh My!:  Maybe public transportation isn’t available or practical in your area, or maybe it’s just not your thing.  There’s likely still some other earth friendly ways to get around.

                   - Car pools have been around since soon after Mr. Ford’s Model T came along but reached their heyday during the late 1970’s oil crisis.  Today, technology is bringing us a whole new era of ridesharing with sites such as Sidecar, Lyft and Zimride.  While the new options may still have some kinks to work out, ridesharing remains a viable alternative to reducing the number of cars on the road, and maybe making a friend or two in the bargain.

                   - Whether motor or pedal, cycling is another way to get from A to B with lower carbon emissions.  Of course, the bicycle is the big winner with zero carbon output, so, if possible, that’s your best bet.  Taking your bike also gives you the added benefit of healthy exercise and no parking fees.  Besides, bike helmets are in this season. 

                  - Just think, not that long ago, historically speaking, our feet were the best, and often only, way of getting from here to there.  Walking is still a great way to get around, but admittedly is not always practical or possible for everyone.  If you can, take a look and see if there might be a way to work a little more foot power into your day. 

                  - Making use of your own two feet is a great way to reduce your carbon, uh, footprint. 

  • One tread is better than two:  Planning out efficient routes for errands and other  trips in the car cuts down on time and energy used.  When possible, work out a route that allows for the fewest stops and least amount of driving time.  Good for the environment and less chances to have to give the death stare in the rear view mirror as your little darlings find new ways to antagonize each other. 

Ok, that’s it!  As promised 5 (or so) easy tips for reducing your carbon footprint.  And these are just a few of the many great ideas out there for cutting down on carbon emissions, protecting our tiny blue dot of a world, and still finding practical ways to live our lives.  

Carl Sagan said it all when speaking about the 1990 photo taken by Voyager I, 

“To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

Life on this vast, beautiful, fragile planet of ours is dependent on the efforts of all.  Small changes made by many can be the difference we need. 

Start today.  Make Change Personal.  Practically Green is here to help.