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Top Tips for a Smaller Carbon Footprint

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 3 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Carbon Footprint Emissions Greenhouse

Every year, each of us in the UK is responsible for an average of around 14 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – once you’ve factored in things like flying, which don’t appear in the official government figures. We all know about trying to reduce our carbon footprint and, of course, a lot of the general energy saving ideas help make a good contribution towards doing it – but what else can we do, and ideally without having to spend a fortune or change our lifestyle beyond recognition?

Here are a few less well-known tips for obtaining the smaller carbon footprint you always wanted. They’re based on that most elusive and unlikely of things – the ‘average’ household, with its 2.3(!) occupants – so not all of them will work for everyone, but never-the-less there should be at least something that everyone can try.

Heating and Lighting

OK, so you’ve insulated everything you can, turned your central heating thermostat down a degree or so, set your hot water to 60ºC, replaced all your light-bulbs and you never, ever, leave anything on stand-by – so what’s left?

Gas and electricity account for about three tonnes of CO2 for each of the inhabitants of our ‘average’ home per year – two tonnes through gas consumption and a tonne due to our use of electricity. A new gas boiler, if yours is more than 10 years old, should save you around 300kg/year, while fitting solar water heating will shave 200kg off your annual total and installing 2kW photo-voltaic (PV) panels will save you a further 400kg a year – but all of these obviously demand a sizeable up-front investment.

For a smaller outlay you could swap halogen lights for LED or fluorescent lamps, reducing your annual carbon footprint by around 100kg. Buying an energy use monitor is another low cost option to consider; while it won’t actually reduce your carbon footprint directly, it may change the way you use electricity forever!

Even cheaper to do, the simple act of reverting to a washing line and never using a tumble drier could save a further 100kg a year.

Travel

Travel accounts for nearly 30% of the UK’s total energy usage – and adds a sizeable amount to your carbon footprint as a result. Of course, all the usual advice about using public transport and walking or cycling whenever you can helps reduce this – but what else can you do to cut back the carbon?

When it comes to holidays, if you never fly, you’ll instantly slash 1.2 tonnes – that's 8.5% - off your footprint. Shopping online rather than driving to the shops could add a further 100kg or so to the reduction, while working from home on just one day a week would also take 100kg off your total. Share a car for the commute on the remaining four days and you’ll take off another 300– 400kg.

Food

According to estimates, the production and to a lesser extent food miles involved in putting meals on our tables adds around 1.5 tonnes a year to each and every one of our carbon footprints.

Avoiding highly packaged or air-freighted products is one obvious way to reduce this, but there are others. If you refuse to buy any processed foods or ‘ready meals, it’ll cut your footprint by around 200kg a year, while going vegetarian will save you 500kg annually and even just buying sensibly and composting your left-overs will cut your footprint by around 200kg.

Grow your own fruit and vegetables for three months of the year and you can add another 100kg saving to the total!

Clothing

Nearly a tonne of the CO2 of the average British person’s yearly total comes from clothes – with the production of wool and cotton fabrics typically embedding around 20 times their weight in carbon footprint.

Cut back on your purchases, buy more second-hand clothing from charity shops and opt for man-made fibres or cloth made from bamboo and hemp and you could see your footprint slashed by up to 800kg.

Achieving a smaller carbon footprint does call for a bit of a change in the way we live – and a bigger one in the way we think – but it really doesn’t need to cost the earth!

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