Some actions for reducing your own personal carbon footprint may have a higher impact and be more effective than some other actions which are considered lower impact.
In this guide, we reference a study that identifies these high, moderate and low impact actions.
We also include a list of others actions that may help lower an individual’s carbon footprint.
Summary – Most Effective Ways To Reduce Personal Carbon Footprint
Before investigating ways to reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to know first what a sustainable carbon footprint might be to aim for.
Some of the high impact ways to reduce carbon for individuals listed below from a specific study include:
Think about the number of children you have – each extra person in the world potentially introduces a new set of emissions, and increases total emissions [but this can depend on the lifestyle and consumption choices of each individual, and the country they live in]
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 usually helps reduce 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 … be aware of your total consumption, your consumption rate (how often or how fast you consume), and how efficient you are with the things you use and consume (how much use or value you get out of them, how long you use or keep them for, and so on)
It is worth noting though that an increasing population, or having more children doesn’t always lead to higher emissions – higher emissions can be caused by other factors (which we list/identify below).
Another interesting note from the information below is that divorced families may have larger carbon footprint – splitting up their footprint across two or more households, instead of sharing in the potential increased efficiency of one home. Additional pets in the household also increase the carbon footprint – they emit gas, and their diet (especially if meat based) has a footprint too.
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)
- [The above points about energy can also refer to carbon intensity of certain energy sources and the activities they are used in]
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
Other general actions people might take into consideration to reduce their carbon footprint might include:
- Choosing a certified clean energy supplier, such as a renewable energy supplier, over an energy supplier that uses coal and other fossil fuels
- Consider how homes can be more energy efficient, such as having insulation (to reduce heating and cooling), and having energy and water efficient appliances, devices and systems. The size and number of homes can also matter when calculating carbon footprints
- Drive less, or take more carbon efficient forms of transport … taking public transport where possible (which might be more efficient per passenger mile travelled), and walking and riding where possible, over inefficient forms of transport such as single person private cars. Also shorter and less plane flights might help.
- Consider whether switching from eating beef to a less carbon intensive meat like chicken for example is an option
- Consider whether a vegetarian type diet which might be less carbon intensive is an option
- Not wasting food at home – food waste has an indirect carbon footprint
- Consider whether increased recycling or using recycled products (that don’t use virgin materials) can reduce emissions
- Consider the impact of each additional pet you bring into the family (pets emit gases, and their food diet has a footprint too)
- Consider where you work – does your employer have some carbon efficient processes and systems in place?
- Consider the impact of decreasing total consumption, and rate of consumption – of electricity, of miles travelled, of food eaten and wasted, of products and services used and purchased, of household activities, and so on
- Carbon offsets might help somewhat, but it might help more to not have to offset them in the first place
Some other suggestions from nrdc.org:
- … 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.
- [Eat locally grown food]
- [Eat vegetarian]
- [Replace beef with chicken]
- Organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy during production but requires one-third more hours of human labor compared to typical farming practices, making it more expensive
- Washing clothes on ‘cold’ reduces CO2 … per laundry load, depending on washing machine type, hot water temperature, and electricity source.
- [The type of home matters – detached houses might use the most energy, followed by mobile homes, apartments with 2-4 units in the building, followed by apartments with 5+ units in the building]
- Smaller homes use less energy
- [Using a low-flow shower head can save energy, along with setting water temperature lower]
- [Turn off home devices when not in use]
- Choose energy-efficient lighting – energy star rated
- Recycle household waste
- In general – shop for products with lower carbon footprints
- Driving vehicles with better fuel economy
- Driving less total miles and walking more or taking shared transport
- [Drive slower and within the speed limit]
- Walk, bike, carpool, use mass transit, or drive a best-in-class vehicle.
– css.umich.edu (note – css.umich.edu has data on how much CO2 these solutions might save)
- Hang clothes outside instead of putting them through the dryer
- Workout and run outside instead of using a treadmill
- Stay married – divorced household need two houses to support separate parents
Reduce or become more efficient or better with your
- choice of diet,
- transportation choices,
- home size,
- shopping and recreational activities,
- usage of electricity, heating, and heavy appliances such as dryers and refrigerators, and so on
- The carbon footprint of U.S. households is about 5 times greater than the global average.
- For most U.S. households the single most important action to reduce their carbon footprint is driving less or switching to a more efficient vehicle.
- The most common way to reduce the carbon footprint of humans is to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse (refer to the waste hierarchy)
- This can be done in manufacturing, at household level, in transport, in heating and cooling, in food consumption, and carbon offsetting
- A [study] argued that the most significant way individuals could mitigate their own carbon footprint is to have fewer children, followed by living without a vehicle, forgoing air travel and adopting a plant-based diet.
- Hang out the washing instead of tumble drying
- Turn down the heating by 1⁰C
- Only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need to boil
- Spend less time in the shower
- Turn electrical equipment off when not in use
….Total Potential savings are 437kg CO2 and £127 each year
- Fit energy saving light bulbs – LEDs can save 90% of lighting energy costs
- Install thermostatic valves on your radiators
- Insulate your hot water tank
- Install cavity wall installation
- Install 180mm thick loft insulation
- Replace your old refrigerator / freezer (if it is over 15 years old), with a new one with energy efficiency rating of “A++”
- Replace your old boiler with a new energy efficient condensing boiler
- Car share to work or for the kids school run
- Use the bus or a train rather than your car
- For short journeys; walk or cycle
- Try to reduce the number of flights you take
- See if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week
- Next time you replace your car – make sure you choose a low emission vehicle. If you have the budget, consider getting a hybrid or full electric car.
- When staying in a hotel – turn the lights and air-conditioning off when you leave your hotel room, and ask for your room towels to be washed every other day, rather than every day
- Electric vehicles
- Don’t buy bottled water if your tap water is safe to drink
- Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
- Buy foods that are in season locally
- Don’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are out of season, they may have been flown in
- Reduce your consumption of meat
- Try to only buy products made close to home (look out and avoid items that are made in the distant lands)
- Buy organic produce
- Don’t buy over packaged products
- Recycle as much as possible
- Think carefully about the type of activities you do in your spare time. Do any of these cause an increase in carbon emissions? e.g. Saunas, Health clubs, restaurants and pubs, go-karting etc. etc…
Offset your emissions
Limit waste of plastic and other trash. Refuse, reduce, re-use and recycle.
– carbonfootprint.com (refer to their resource for numbers on carbon savings)
- Eat vegetarian
- Home cook more (allows you more control over what you eat, and preparation)
- Cook Smartly (eat foods that don’t need much cooking, or need minimal cooking. The most efficient cooking method is simmering on the stove-top, followed by a microwave)
- Eat organic
- Save water – in particular, hot water
- Don’t over consume
- Avoid lots of packaging (buy in bulk where possible)
- Shopping local can help save some of the transport/freight carbon footprint
- Reuse and recycle as much as you can
- Grow your own food where possible
- Drive a more fuel efficient car
- Take less, and shorter duration flights
- Consider switching to plant based from meat based diet
- eating what you buy (e.g., saving leftovers and keeping things in the fridge) leads to a 25% reduction
- reducing meat and dairy consumption — 25%
- eating seasonally (here the author provides a quick guide on what’s in season and when), avoiding hothouses and air freight — 10%
- avoiding excessive packaging and recycling — 6%
- helping shops reduce waste by buying items from the front of the shelves, reduced-price items and misshapen fruit and vegetables — 2%
- cooking using less energy (i.e., use a pan lid and reduce the heat where possible, and turn off the gas when not in use) — 5%
If you do most of these things you can comfortably cut down your carbon food-print by 60%
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.
Wider List Of Potential Solutions For Climate Change