Some actions for reducing your personal carbon footprint may have a higher impact and be more effective than other lower impact actions.
In this guide, we reference a study that identifies these high, moderate and low impact actions.
We also include a list of general actions an individual might choose to do to help with addressing climate change.
Summary – Most Effective Ways To Reduce Personal Carbon Footprint
Before investigating ways to reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to know what a sustainable carbon footprint might be to aim for.
Some of the high impact ways to reduce carbon for individuals listed below include:
- Think about the number of children you have – each extra person in the world potentially introduces a new set of emissions (and increases overall emissions)
- Think about how much you use your car, and consider how you can walk or ride around more (or catch public transport/mass transit) – cars/individual conventional fuelled cars contribute to a lot of carbon emissions because they burn fossil fuels
- Think about how often you fly in planes – taking less plane trips a year can reduce carbon emissions
- Use more renewable and low carbon energy – if your house currently runs on coal or gas power, switching to solar or another renewable energy technology reduces emissions
- Consider how you drive – buying a fuel efficient car, buying an electric car, or simply reducing the amount of braking and accelerating you do can all reduce emissions
- Consider what your food diet looks like – meat, animals based products and processed foods all tend to have a high carbon footprint than plant based diets. It’s also worth noting that the highest offending carbon footprint meats tend to be beef, lamb, and pork, with chicken usually having a smaller carbon footprint
- Be aware of the carbon footprint of the product you use on a daily basis
It is worth noting though that increasing population
High Impact, Moderate Impact, & Low Impact Actions For Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emission Footprint
There’s been research done into what the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint are, and the approximate CO2e (kg of carbon dioxide equivalent) reduced per year by implementing these different actions.
What was found was that there’s a clear difference between ‘high impact’, ‘moderate impact’ and ‘low impact’ actions.
Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas outline high impact, moderate impact and low impact ways to reduce carbon dioxide in terms of approximate CO2e reduced per year (in kg):
High Impact Actions
- Have one fewer child – 23, 700 up to 117, 700 CO2e reduced per year (kg)
- Live car free – 1000 up to 5300
- Avoid one long range flight per year – 700 up to 2800
- Purchase green energy – less than 100, up to 2500
- Reduce effects of driving – 1190
- Eat a plant based diet – 300 up to 1600
Moderate Impact Actions
- Better home heating/cooling efficiency – 180
- Install solar panels/renewable energy
- Use public transportation, ride a bike, or walk
- Buy energy efficient products
- Conserve energy – 210
- Reduce food waste – 370
- Eat less meat – 230
- Reduce consumption in general (of products)
- Reuse – 5
- Recycle – 210
- Eat local – 0 up to 360
Low Impact Actions
- Conserve water
- Eliminate unnecessary travel
- Minimize waste
- Plant a tree – 6 up to 60
- Purchase carbon offsets
- Reduce lawn mowing
- Eco tourism
- Keep backyard chickens
- Buy Eco labelled products
- Calculate your home’s carbon footprint
- Spread awareness
- Influence employer’s actions
- Influence school’s actions
– iopscience.iop.org, and phys.org
Is Having Less Children Really The Best Way To Reduce An Individual’s Carbon Footprint?
Population growth in general might result in increased emissions, but it’s only one of several key factors that might increase overall emissions from a population of people.
Other key factors can include:
- Rate of economic growth and industrialization
- Consumption rate and total consumption (at least at the city level – it’s been suggested reducing consumption is a better strategy than simply using more renewable energy and electric vehicles)
- The energy mix of a country – is coal primarily used? Natural gas tends to be cleaner than coal, and renewables and other energy sources cleaner than fossil fuels
- How low carbon energy sources for electricity generation and power (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) are, and efficiency of electricity/power generation
- How low carbon energy sources for transport are, the total number of vehicles (mainly cars and trucks) being used, and how efficient transport methods are per passenger (e.g. mass transit vs personal vehicles)
So, having children and a family is not necessarily a bad thing for an individual’s carbon footprint if per capita emissions of those individuals is lower (which can be based on the above factors, and other factors).
Some of the biggest cities in the world have also managed to peak and decrease their emissions recently despite population increase and economic growth. There’s several solutions they’ve implemented to do this.
Other Ways Individuals Might Help With Climate Change & Lower Their Carbon Footprint
Some other suggestions from nrdc.org:
- Choose a utility company that generates at least half its power from wind or solar and has been certified
- Insulate your home, and have more efficient heating and cooling
- Energy efficient appliances – refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances, look for the Energy Star label
- Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too … it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and switch to WaterSense-labeled fixtures and appliances.
- Eat the food you buy. Make less of it meat. Meat is resource intensive
- Change to LEDs – LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents.
- Pull all plugs and ‘idle’ devices
- Maintain cars – If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.
- Planes, trains and automobiles – choosing to live in walkable smart-growth cities and towns with quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less pollution in the air. Less frequent flying can make a big difference, too. “Air transport is a major source of climate pollution,” Haq says. “If you can take a train instead, do that.”
- Pay for carbon offsets
Carbon Footprint Of The Everyday Things We Use
We’ve also put together a guide that outlines the carbon footprint of some of the everyday things we use and consume.