40 of the Latest and Greatest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home
Doing your part to protect the planet this Earth Day can be as easy as making small, strategic changes to your everyday routine.
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What is a carbon footprint?
At this point, we know that we’re in the midst of a climate crisis. Global temperatures are the highest they’ve ever been, making Arctic ice melt and sea levels rise, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Carbon dioxide levels are also at their highest in 650,000 years, which is why we’ve heard a lot about our “carbon footprint.” But what, exactly, is a carbon footprint? Most importantly, how and why should we reduce it? Essentially, your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from each of your daily activities, as well as the products you consume. Whether you realize it or not, every time you get in a car or on a plane, adjust your thermostat or buy produce, it affects the environment. So, how can we reduce our carbon footprint? Though it may seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do in your own home that can make a difference. Find out what could happen if the glaciers continue to melt.
Switch to smart light bulbs
You’ve probably already made the switch from traditional incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient LED bulbs. That’s a great first step, but you can do one better by switching to smart LED bulbs. What makes them smart? These bulbs can wirelessly connect to the internet and most importantly, your smartphone, enabling you to do things like dim the lights or change the color with a few taps. And not only are they more convenient, but they also use an average of 75 percent less energy than the conventional incandescent lighting, while lasting 25 times longer. Not sure what kind of smart bulb to buy? The Philips Hue bulbs come with high ratings, but also a hefty price tag ($181 for the starter kit). If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, the eufy by Anker bulb also has a lot of positive reviews, with a price tag of only $19.99.
Use a smart thermostat
Adjusting temperature setting on your heating and cooling system’s thermostat is the easiest step to save energy and conserve resources, Tim Storm, senior product manager for Trane Residential outdoor units told Reader’s Digest. Setting your thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer can save up to 10 percent in energy costs each year, according to the Department of Energy. “If 78 degrees is too warm for you, you can adjust it a bit lower to be comfortable,” Storm said. “Just remember that for every degree you raise your thermostat above 72 degrees, you save up to 3 percent of your cooling expenses.” By using a programmable smart thermostat, it’s possible to take better control over those settings. “A program can lower or raise settings based upon the daily happenings in your home,” Storm explains. “A smart thermostat, however, can allow you to make changes from wherever you may be. Say you head out on vacation without making any adjustments. A smart thermostat will give you access to your settings from an app or website to make the changes and know you aren’t wasting energy while you’re away.” The Nest thermostat is one of the most popular and user-friendly models out there. Follow these 13 tricks to save on your summer energy bill.
Upgrade your heating and cooling system
Though this may be prohibitively expensive for some, upgrading your heating and cooling system in your home to one that is more energy-efficient could end up saving money in the long run. “Heating and cooling can account for half or more of the energy use in a home,” Storm says. “Today’s systems were created with efficiency and resource conservation in mind. For example, replacing a system from 2006 or before with one from today can save up to 54 percent in energy costs.” Specifically, replacing an older system with the combination of a heat pump and furnace can directly reduce carbon emissions by allowing the heat pump to run during milder cold snaps while limiting the furnace to operating only when extreme outdoor temperatures require the furnace for maintaining the desired indoor comfort levels. Storm recommends looking for Energy Star certified systems that have a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) ratings, noting that they’ll be 15 percent more efficient than other models.
Use a laptop instead of a desktop computer
If you’re trying to decide what kind of computer to get for using at home, consider getting a laptop instead of a desktop, because it uses less energy. Specifically, laptops use up to 80 percent less electricity than desktops, using between one-fifth and one-third as much energy. Why is that? “Desktop computers often include power supplies with maximum capabilities far beyond its system needs at 300 watts or higher, whereas laptops contain smaller PSUs between 30 and 90 watts,” Dan Stone at the Houston Chronicle writes. “As an added bonus, laptops are an additional 20 percent more power efficient when running on AC adapter power over battery power.” But this also means you’re going to have to put in some effort to care for your laptop, including avoiding these 13 mistakes that shorten your laptop’s life.
Rethink your transportation strategy
Not everyone has the option of walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work and to run errands, but if you do, those are the best ways to reduce your transportation-related carbon footprint. However, in a lot of places, this simply isn’t possible and you need a car to get around. If this is the case (and it’s financially feasible), you may want to consider switching to an electric or hybrid car. While only a few years ago these cars seemed futuristic, they’re now pretty standard, and electric charging stations are getting more common. When fossil fuels—like gasoline—are burned by a traditional car’s engine, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere via the tailpipe. Hybrid cars use both gasoline and electricity, making them more environmentally friendly than traditional cars, but not as green as all-electric cars. The good news is that electric cars are one of 11 things predicted to be cheaper in 2020.
Use apps like Waze to avoid traffic
Not only is getting stuck in traffic annoying, but it’s also not good for the environment. As we discussed above, driving a traditional car that runs solely on an internal combustion engine releases carbon dioxide into the air. When you’re trapped in bad traffic, this means that your car is running—and therefore polluting—but without the benefit of you actually going anywhere. One way to help with this is to use apps like Waze that send you alerts about accidents, traffic jams, and places to avoid. Waze also has a carpool function that allows you to find other riders in your area. Find out the 22 cars with the best fuel economy and five of the worst.
Telecommute if/when you can
Though not everyone has a job that allows you to telecommute, this is becoming increasingly common. In fact, 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time, making it more popular than ever. And not only is it more convenient (working in pajamas!), it also helps reduce your carbon footprint because you’re not doing your usual daily commute. With approximately 68 percent of the workforce getting to work in a private vehicle, even working from home one day a week could help reduce carbon emissions. Plus, if you’ve gotten in the habit of grabbing a coffee on the way to the office or using those disposable cups at work, you won’t be adding to the waste when you’re telecommuting—assuming you’re using a mug.
Avoid buying products with palm oil
Whether or not you realize it, palm oil is found in many products, including processed foods, cosmetics, and biofuels. And while it can make these products more affordable, they come at a high cost to the environment. The biggest problem with palm oil is that rainforests are being converted into palm oil plantations. According to an article published in the journal Nature Communications, one hectare of converted land is equivalent to a loss of 174 tons of carbon, and most of this carbon will find its way into the air as carbon dioxide. “The quantity of carbon released when just one hectare of forest is cleared to grow oil palms is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by 530 people flying from Geneva to New York in economy class,” the authors of the study wrote. So what can you do to help? Believe it or not, peanut butter is a good way to start. Because many varieties of peanut butter contain palm oil, do your homework and switch to a brand that doesn’t contain the oil. These include Wild Friends, Spread the Love, and Crazy Richard’s.
Shop local when you can
The whole “shop local” and “eat local” movements may seem like a trend, but it’s actually a great way to reduce your carbon emissions. It makes sense: if you’re purchasing and eating foods that come from near where you live, you’re not relying on the plane, trucks, and ships required to ship in foods from other locations. Because each of those methods releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, cutting back on them can help reduce your carbon footprint. Not only that, but by buying local, you’re supporting farmers and food producers in your area, and getting foods when they’re much fresher—without having to wait for them to be imported from somewhere else. Be aware, however, that not all the food at a farmer’s market is local or fresh.
Avoid fast fashion
As tempting as it is to waltz into an H&M or Forever 21 to pick out a few pieces to update your wardrobe without spending too much money, it’s pretty bad for the environment. Fast fashion makes clothing and accessories essentially disposable, that’s exactly what people are doing. In fact, up to 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills annually—enough to fill the Sydney Harbor each year. On top of that, most fast fashion clothes are made of polyester. Making this plastic-based fabric releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton. Also, polyester does not break down in the ocean. Instead, try buying vintage or consignment clothes, or sticking to a few sustainably made pieces and not just throwing them out when you’re tired of looking at them. Learn the 14 tips to finding hidden gems at the thrift store.
Opting out of expedited delivery
At first, online shopping and getting packages delivered right to your house felt novel and convenient. But, now, after years of being treated to Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping, we’ve gotten very impatient when it comes to when our packages arrive. Unfortunately, this is not helping our carbon footprint. “Before, companies were able to consolidate, to optimize their distribution. Now, because some of them are offering really fast and rushed deliveries, that disintegrates the consolidation,” Miguel Jaller of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, told Vox. “Every individual is buying more and wanting those goods to be at their home really fast. That creates more vehicles, more traffic, and potentially more emissions.” If it’s at all possible, skip the overnight or expedited delivery on things you don’t need to get right away.
Wash your clothes in cold water
We all have to wash our clothes—it’s not an option. But we do have a choice when it comes to how we do that. One way to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to laundry is to wash your clothes in cold water. If you’re about your clothes not getting clean enough, switch to cold water detergent. “The enzymes in cold water detergent are designed to clean better in cold water,” according to the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Doing two loads of laundry weekly in cold water instead of hot or warm water can save up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.” Find out 11 smart strategies to save on every household bill.
Use a low-flow showerhead
While we’re on the topic of water, let’s talk about making the switch to a low-flow showerhead. By using one of these, you can save up to 10 gallons of water per shower, which means you’re also saving about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, according to researchers at the University of Rochester. The good news is that low-flow showerheads are relatively inexpensive and easy to install yourself. Some popular—and affordable—models include the Niagara Earth Massage (a steal at $8), the Delta H2Okinetic PowerDrench Spray (only $18.65), and the Sparkfall Rainfall Showerhead (if you still want to experience that rainfall feel without wasting water and spend less than $30). This should also get you thinking about other ways you waste water in your home.
Think ahead when planning meals
Yes, it’s annoying to see your smug friend post a week’s worth of perfectly prepped meals on Instagram, but it’s also good for the environment. Not only does meal planning and prepping cut down on food waste, but it also can reduce the trips you have to make to the grocery store since you’re presumably buying all the ingredients at one time. While we’re on the subject, it also helps to buy in bulk when you can. Again, this means fewer trips to the supermarket, as well as less packaging on food. Invest in a set of reusable containers so that you’re able to store the food you buy and make without using disposable containers and adding to the amount of waste your household produces.
Start taking part in Meatless Mondays
If you’re someone who eats meat every single day, you may not know about the impact of that on the environment. Raising livestock—the source of our meat and dairy products—is responsible for 14.5 percent of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Earth Institute at Columbia University. This primarily comes from producing and processing the feed for the animals, as well as the methane that beef and sheep belch out. Seriously: those beef burps are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere over 100 years. Even just skipping the meat one day a week can make an impact: reducing your carbon footprint by eight pounds. An easy way to start doing this is to take part in Meatless Mondays. And don’t worry—cooking without meat isn’t as hard as you think.
The typical American home uses 800 kilowatts of electricity running their clothes dryer, according to the National Resource Defense Council. Instead of machine-drying all your stuff, set up a clothesline in your backyard or on your balcony and let your sheets and clothes air dry. The amount of energy the appliance consumes depends on the brand and age of your clothes dryer, but air-drying will help you save a little cash on your electric bill, too. If you don’t have outdoor space, consider setting up a drying rack in the laundry room, a bathroom, or any well-ventilated area of your home.
Let exercise do double-duty
If you live close enough to work or errands, consider walking, running, or biking to work to keeping one more car off the road and burn calories to boot. If you live too far from work to get there by foot or bike, consider carpooling with a coworker who lives nearby, or research public transportation options. A typical passenger vehicle emits 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year so each day you’re off the road you’re conserving cash and carbon, according to the EPA. Not only can green living help your wallet and the environment, but it also makes you healthier, too.
Cruise and coast
Intermittent acceleration and braking can burn extra fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When you’re on the highway, turn on cruise control to maintain an even speed and conserve gas. On hilly terrain, however, cruise control can expend more fuel by trying to maintain an even speed on uphill portions of the road, so consider going fully manual in the mountains. You can also conserve gas—and save your brakes—by taking your foot off the gas pedal when approaching a red light (if there’s no one behind you).
Turning off lights and appliances as much as possible is a sure-fire way to reduce your energy consumption, but swapping your standard light bulb for an LED or CFL bulb reduces energy consumption by up to 80 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The more efficient bulbs also last longer, reducing waste and cost.
Rather than grabbing a single-use container when you’re out and about, carry a reusable water bottle with you. You can take this tip further by carrying a coffee thermos, too. Most coffee shops will fill your brought-from-home mug.
Instead of one-time plastic pods, which wreak havoc on the environment, purchase a drip brewing machine that reduces plastic consumption. Even better, invest in a French press or cold brew maker, which does the steeping without plastic or power.
Skip the straw
Americans use a whopping 500 million straws per day, a number that, end-to-end, could circle the planet two and a half times, according to environmental action group Sailors for the Sea. Instead, skip the straw and lid altogether and sip from the cup to avoid contributing to plastic pollution. If you need to use a straw or have little ones in tow, purchase paper or metal straws made from recycled material. The paper will biodegrade more easily than plastic, and metal straws can be reused until they’re ready to recycle.
Instead of printing a receipt each time you hit the ATM, opt for email or text message receipts to keep tabs on your balance. Most banks now offer paperless billing, so you can handle all of your transactions online without wasting a single sheet of paper. While you’re at it, download an app like Venmo or Paypal, where you can transfer money between individuals free of charge and save on the paper checks.
Reject the junk
The average American adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year. Stem the flow of paper waste by signing up for a service like DMA Choice to remove your name and address from direct mailing lists. If you’re getting catalogs from favorite retailers, email them to request being removed from their direct mailing list and opt for email updates instead. Many stores like CVS and Stop and Shop now offer apps that allow users to load coupons directly onto their loyalty cards to avoid printing them. Another bonus: One card means fewer coupons to forget at home!
Put the “e” in email
Save paper by swapping snail mail for email. For birthdays and holidays, websites such as Paperless Post offer digital invitation services, greeting cards, and more. As a bonus, many online greeting websites allow you to schedule sending cards in advance, so no more missing birthdays.
Pack your bags
Stash a few reusable shopping bags in your car to use in the grocery store to avoid plastic bags, which are difficult to recycle. Many grocery stores and online retailers sell reusable produce bags as well, to further reduce plastic consumption.
Save money and calories by bringing your lunch in from home. Takeout restaurants are disposable-packaging powerhouses, and by packing your lunch, you control the wrappings and trappings for your midday meal. Brown bags are recyclable but consider investing in a reusable lunch bag and food containers (like Box Appetit), and swap plastic snack bags for reusable ones made of silicone, like Stasher Bags.
Trade paper for cloth
Cloth napkins are more durable and less wasteful than their paper counterparts. Retailers like Ikea sell packs of reusable towels and napkins at affordable prices. The cloth napkins can be washed by hand or in the washing machine and reused. Plus, they come in cute patterns and fabrics that beat plain paper napkins any day. You can take this further by swapping your paper gift wrap for cloth—and the wrapping becomes another gift in itself.
Buy local and in-season
The National Resource Defense Council says the typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries. This translates to hundreds of gallons of fuel and tons of carbon dioxide expended to import these food products to your local grocery store. Instead, buy locally grown produce whenever possible. While the options will be limited to what’s in season, you’ll be getting fresher food that hasn’t traveled for days or weeks before reaching the shelf. Search for a farmers market in your area, which not only will get you the freshest ingredients but it will help you to cut out the middle man, getting more of every dollar into the hands of the producers themselves. Make sure to reduce your waste and avoid buying these 12 spring superfoods in the first place.
Don’t stop at local food. Make an effort to also purchase wine, beer, and liquor from local vineyards, breweries, and distilleries. By reducing the distance the bottles have to travel, you’re not only supporting local businesses but also reducing transportation costs. Many of these places also offer tours and tastings on-site for a fun weekend activity.
Avoid food waste
Over one-third of the food produced annually across the globe is wasted, according to data from the United Nations. To avoid contributing to this problem, grocery shop with a plan and use items in your pantry and fridge according to their expiration dates. For the bits of food you can’t eat, consider starting a backyard compost pile to turn leftovers into fuel for plants.
Grow your own
If you have outdoor space, consider planting a vegetable garden in the ground or in containers. With your green thumb, you can keep chemicals out of your garden and out of the soil using responsible gardening practices, and also save yourself a trip to the store by simply walking outside and shopping your garden. If space is limited, grow herbs in an indoor container near a window, or tomatoes in a large planter.
The average household hose uses six gallons of water per minute and isn’t particularly efficient. Look for ways to reduce waste, such as using a watering can to better target your plants and give them a more natural watering akin to rain. You can also turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth; per Colgate’s Every Drop Counts program you’ll save up to four gallons or 64 glasses of water every time you brush for an average of two minutes with this simple switch. Plus, you’ll save on your water bill.
Adopt Meatless Mondays
Raising meat cattle and other animals for consumption takes a major toll on the environment, according to Scientific American. Reduce your reliance on these industries by forgoing meat and dining on legumes, grains, and veggies more often. Start with one meal a week, and if you’re feeling ambitious aim for more.
Rethink your disposables
A benefit of having more and more environmentally conscious consumers is that companies are rushing to meet their needs. Evaluate the disposable household items you use and consider a swap, like switching from plastic toothbrushes to the Bogobrush or trading plastic forks and spoons for Bambu’s bamboo eating utensils. Here are 11 more “disposable” items you should stop buying now.
Purchase an e-reader, like an Amazon Kindle, to reduce shipping materials and costs of new books, not to mention the paper materials of the physical copies. Not willing to give up turning pages? Support your community and sign up for a library card. Consider donating your used books and movies to the library. Help the environment by donating these 10 bizarre items you never knew you could donate.
Batteries may contain heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, silver, nickel, or lithium that can contaminate the environment if not recycled or if disposed of improperly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Keep these materials out of landfills by purchasing rechargeable batteries for your electronic devices. While they’re initially more expensive, you’ll spend less over time by not having to replace batteries, and will reduce waste.
Skip the gym
No, this is not an excuse to not exercise. Skip the gym and take your workout on the open road instead. You’ll save the fuel it might take you to drive to the gym and the energy consumption of the machines you would be working on.
Shrink your appliances
When possible, skip cooking in the oven and opt for the microwave or a toaster oven instead. While the average amp hours of these appliances are similar, smaller appliances generally cook food faster and don’t require preheating.
Be brand aware
Reevaluate the products you have in your home and make the necessary swaps to more environmentally sustainable products and businesses. Websites like rankabrand.org give grades to businesses based on their degree of social responsibility and sustainable practices to help you make the best brand choices for the environment. These brands might do things like use less plastic or reduce paper waste.