Reducing your personal carbon footprint – 10 ideas to consider 

In this blog ecolibrium’s Trustee Liz Warwick, Sustainability Consultant at Lansdowne Warwick and environmental advisor for Cambridge Folk Festival, has picked 10 ideas to consider for reducing our carbon emissions that can be easily taken on board. A lot are obvious, and you may be doing already but it’s good to cover the basics and take the easy wins before moving on to greater challenges.

  1. Change your energy to a green energy provider if you haven’t already. The more demand there is for clean energy the more will be invested there and away from oil and gas. You can save about 1.5 tonnes CO2 every year (the equivalent to a return flight to New York) by changing your supplier. 
  2. Insulate your home – Proper insulation and double-glazing can reduce your heating emissions by 20% and save you money. Take advantage of the recently announced government Green Homes Grant which offers up to £5,000 vouchers through the Simple Energy Advice website.
  3. How you eat – Reduce food waste. Up to 50% of all food that is produced in the world or 2 billion tonnes is wasted each year. Mostly through the supply chain with farms still discarding imperfect produce but households still throw away 30-50% of shopping. This is a huge cost for energy, land, water and emissions and ending food waste could cut global emissions by 13%. Cut down on meat: Livestock production accounts for nearly 15% greenhouse gas emissions. 
  4. Gardening – Don’t use pesticides and weed killers in the garden. I’m working with Cambridge City Council parks and open spaces department who, like many other local authorities, have targets for reducing glyphosate herbicides and decreasing mowing verges to allow meadows and long grasses. We are reliant on insects and natural ecosystems for crops and productivity and the natural world is collapsing with the increased use or weed killers. 
  5. Cut travel – use public transport, cycle, walk, fly less, car share. There are some great resources out there for learning about electric vehicles not least Fully Charged’s free YouTube channel and the Podpoint website. I am using these resources for when I change car although as my petrol car has a few more years life in it I am holding on to avoid extra emissions in manufacturing a new car and consciously cutting my journeys.
  6. Carbon offset – There are some amazing schemes out there, not least through ecolibrium, that offer footprint calculators for your home and travel to offset your personal emissions. These effectively calculate your annual emissions and then convert these to donations in pounds that will offset these emissions elsewhere in the UK or world. At ecolibrium we balance tour, company, event and festival travel miles through investments in renewable energy projects or support for tree planting, rainforest protection and reforestation projects. Until we can get to net zero emissions then carbon offsetting absolutely has a significant place in helping the world as long as it’s not used to replace direct action. 
  7. Pensions – Pension funds have over 3 trillion pounds invested in fossil fuel companies. Not everyone will have a pension or the option to switch but it is definitely worth reading the leaflet produced by New about disinvesting out of oil and gas. (Anyone wishing to move their money should take professional advice. Investments can go up as well as down. Terms and conditions apply etc!)
  8. Activate – write to your MP on issues that concern you, sign petitions, march. I write to my MP regularly. We need to make it clear to our representatives that we are concerned about emissions. Get your voice out there in as many ways as possible.
  9. Consume consciously – In the commercial interior design industry, for example, sustainability stakeholders demand change and increased information on furniture and finishes for consumers, and manufacturershave evolved to meet higher environmental standards.
    When individuals buy things they all have a direct impact on the environment. 

    For householders however, information on product sourcing is not readily available, and it frustrates me. To bring about change we need to be curious and ask where all our purchases are made and what impacts they may have on the world. 

    Take timber: we all have items of furniture in our houses that will have been manufactured from timber, mdf or plywood. But we need to stop and ask where this timber is from? It could have come from illegal logging and worked its way into an unchecked supply chain. There is a huge industry on fraud for getting illegal and unsustainable timber onto the market. FSC or PEFC certified timber is a good way to ensure the timber is sustainably logged and ensures the local communities are not impacted. Deforestation has huge impacts on climate change and communities so shouldn’t we check where all our timber is from and that its sustainably sourced? Deforestation accounts for over 10% greenhouse gas emissions. A 2019 WWF report found the worst offenders for not being able to prove legal timber were musical instrument and furniture companies.

    If we all asked where our furniture comes from – is the wood certified and if not, can they prove its legal? Is it low in formaldehyde? Is it made in a factory that has good environmental and ethical standards? Are there third party audits? How can I dispose of it sustainably at the end of life? The suppliers would pretty quickly clean up their act. Look for companies that think about the whole life cycle of their product. The circular economy is a term that’s used a lot at the moment and means ensuring that the product is not disposed of at end of life but designed to be reused or its parts reused or recycled to keep the resources in the supply chain.

    Don’t settle for greenwash though. Anyone can say they try to conserve energy and recycle. Look for 3rd party accredited certifications and industry ecolabels and ask specific questions.  It takes time to email and wait for an answer and I can’t promise many manufacturers will have answers straight away, but we need to create the demand for the information in order for companies to feel its worthwhile obtaining it and bettering their supply chains. 

    Consumers can bring about huge change. PG Tips has now taken out the plastics in their tea bags, so they are biodegradable as they listened to their consumers and saw which way the wind was blowing. 
  10. My final point is buy less – Every purchase we make has an impact.  We purchase about 28 tonnes material stuff each year per person. David Attenborough states: use only what you need. 30% greenhouse gases come from the things we buy. 

    We have all grown up with the belief that growth of the economy is good. GDP should rise, returns on investments must increase every year. New innovations and upgrades are essential. That more choice is fab. But growth also means more extraction of minerals, more energy to manufacture goods, to transport them, to use them, to dispose of them ready for a newer version. This planet has limited resources and although some are in abundance a lot of the reserves are in areas that to extract more will cause deforestation, marine disruption and displacement of communities. As we are now discovering encroaching deeper into nature is directly related to pandemics. It is man against nature when we should be in harmony. 

    We are persuaded to buy goods and have to work longer hours to afford this and have bigger houses to fit them all in. We have to increase our incomes and stress levels to accommodate this.

    I read and research philosophies on de-growth that won’t impact jobs or livelihoods. Ideas such as shorter working weeks, job sharing and focus on retraining and investment in greener economies. Usership models instead of ownership – why do people own a lawnmower that’s only used once a week? Cut advertising – people are constantly selling us things we don’t need. 

    Ban planned obsolescence of products – we have to upgrade our phones because our apps no longer work – upgrades are for profit and growth. 

    The economies around the world are based on required growth year on year which is unsustainable, and we need to have a new way of thinking and be open to new models. A current good read is Less is More by Jason Hickel.

To round up:

  1. Think about the initiatives above to reduce carbon footprints if you’re not doing them already
  2. Make conscious choices
  3. Be open to the fact that growth is not necessary for happiness and certainly not good for the planet