Have you always wanted to adopt ways to reduce your carbon footprint? Are you stalling on how to get started? The internet and the wider world are full of ideas for eco-heroes, but your best option is to start small and focus on connecting with nature.
Do the Math
First of all, what IS a carbon footprint? It's a way of estimating the total impact you and your activities have on the environment. Businesses, schools, and entire countries all have their own carbon footprints that represent how much a group or person contributes to climate change. To calculate yours, try the Ecological Footprint Calculator from the Global Footprint Network, or the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Carbon Footprint Calculator. You can input details about your electricity usage, transportation, shopping habits, and other consumer choices. The EPA's calculator will also provide ideas on how much money you will save if you take steps to reduce your footprint. The Ecological Footprint Calculator lets you estimate with a lot more detail, and even gives you the date when you surpassed the amount of resources than you should be using for the year—your personal Earth Overshoot Day. The next step depends on your results. Where did you gobble up the most resources, and what do you feel like you can change?
Look at Your Food
They say that beef is the worst food when it comes to a carbon footprint. Adding up the costs of raising, processing, and transporting it, each pound of beef produces 19 pounds of carbon dioxide! Cutting your consumption of red meat will be better for you and the planet. Also consider how far away your food is produced or grown. Another continent? Or the next town over? Cutting down on the distance between you and your food creation will reduce carbon costs from the diesel, plane, or boat fuel it takes to transport it. Buy food from local farmer's markets and plan to visit pick-your-own produce farms over the summer.
One of the largest producers of carbon for some individuals is plane travel. While expanding your horizons and exploring the world is life-changing, do your best to be kind to the Earth at the same time. Take direct flights as often as possible, as most fuel is used during landing and take off. Pack light to reduce weight on the plane, and consider a bus or train instead for shorter trips.
Reducing your carbon footprint also means increasing the miles per gallon in your family car. Try hypermiling (aka energy-efficient driving), which is free and reduces gas consumption. Accelerate and decelerate slowly, and avoid quick lane changes. Reduce the weight of your vehicle by emptying your trunk and keep your tire pressure at the optimal range (a slightly deflated set of tires can be a major gas-guzzling culprit). You can also commit to making fewer trips out by combining errands and biking when possible.
Evaluate Your Home and Habits
Doing a home energy audit will help you look for heat leaks and other places where you can conserve energy in your home. A few inexpensive tips will help you get started:
- Sign up for a green energy option with your electricity provider.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs or CFLs to reduce energy usage.
- Add insulation in your attic, at the foundation of your home, and around your water heater.
- Your clothes dryer is one of the largest electric users in your home, so hang dry as much laundry as you can.
- Reduce your water usage by adding water aerators to faucets and your shower.
You can also reduce your family's waste and recycle more. Simple things like skipping the straw at a restaurant, using cloth napkins and rags instead of paper products, bringing your own bag to the store, and eliminating paper plates are all nearly free acts of waste reduction. While you should recycle as much as you can, it's also important to know HOW to recycle. Contaminating the recycling stream decreases its value and may force a facility to landfill whole bales of recyclables. Look up the regulations in your area for plastics, cardboard, metal, and other waste such as batteries.
Commit to Lasting Change
Once you've made some changes, redo your carbon footprint calculation and see where you stand. Are you happy with the reduction? If you want to do more, consider buying carbon offsets or making a donation to your favorite green charity. Most importantly, get out and spend some time on the planet you're preserving. Go on a hike, hang out on a beach, swim in a lake, or do some gardening. Knowing your green spaces better will help you remember that everything you do impacts them.
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Why It’s Good
Your carbon footprint is a measure of your impact on the environment: the amount of carbon dioxide you personally produce through your electricity and gasoline usage, the food you consume, the waste you produce, and so forth. Reducing your carbon footprint reduces the stress you put on the Earth.