How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in 7 Easy Steps

Annie Goldsmith
Photo credit: sarayut Thaneerat - Getty Images

From Town & Country

From extreme weather events to dramatic changes in average temperatures, the effects of climate change are already felt throughout the world—the subsequent problems our environment faces seem daunting. While it will require massive structural changes to stop climate change, there are steps individuals can take to help. We can all reduce our carbon footprint—the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that you emit—through the production, use, and disposal of your items and common practices. Here we've compiled tips and tricks to reduce your carbon footprint and do your part to help our environment.

Calculate your carbon footprint.

The best way to know where to cut back is to figure out the breakdown of your emissions. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project determined that, in order to curb global temperature rise, everyone on Earth needs to average an annual carbon footprint of 1.87 tons by 2050. However, the average American carbon footprint per capita is 18.3 tons, so we have a long way to go. Figure out your carbon footprint and then look at where you could cut back emissions. Most individuals' carbon footprints will come mostly from transportation, housing and food.

Reduce the fossil fuel impact of your transportation.

We all know that traditional cars emit exhaust, and that can pollute the air. Try to drive less and, if possible, bike or walk more. If your city or town offers public transportation, use that as much as you can. At the very least, carpool or take ride-sharing vehicles to reduce the number of cars on the road. This tip not only reduce CO2 emissions produced by cars, but they also curb road congestion, and the engine idling that comes along with traffic.

If driving is essential (we get it), perhaps your next car could be electric. More and more auto companies are coming out with hybrid and electric cars, which can reduce or eliminate your need for fossil fuels. These sites rate cars based on their cost and fuel efficiency, so you can buy or lease the most eco-friendly car possible.

While driving, avoid unnecessary breaking and accelerating. According to Columbia University's Earth Institute, some studies found that aggressive driving can result in 40 percent more fuel consumption than consistent, calm driving. Also be sure to service your car regularly in order to keep it efficient.

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Fly less or make up the difference.

If your carbon footprint is high, it may be because you fly frequently. According to The New York Times, one round-trip flight between New York and California generates 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that a standard car emits over an entire year. When possible, drive rather than fly. For short distances, driving is more fuel-efficient than flying, though less so for long-haul trips. Flying non-stop also helps, as each take-off requires more fuel.

When flying is unavoidable, many individuals are now offsetting their flight emissions with donations to sustainable projects. These carbon offsets allow you to take out the same amount of CO2 that you put into the atmosphere by flying. Some airlines will allow you to buy carbon offsets through their own sites, or you can use third party sites like Atmosfair and Terrapass.

Reduce your home's carbon footprint.

The first step in figuring out how to optimize the energy in your home is to figure out how much you're wasting. Do a home energy audit to figure out your home's energy use. You can either have a professional perform the assessment or you can do it yourself.

Once that is complete, there are simple steps you can take to optimize your home's energy use. Turn off lights when you're not using them. Turn down the heat and air conditioning. Turn down your water heater—120 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient. Replace your lights with LED lights, as they are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. Don't set your fridge or freezer temperatures lower than necessary, and replace old appliances with new, energy-efficient ones, if possible. Consider installing a low-flow shower head and take shorter showers.

Finally, if you can afford a large change, seal and insulate your home well, to avoid heat or air conditioning leakage, and look into installing solar panels, for optimal energy efficiency.

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Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

It's a classic trio of R-words, but could still be followed more closely. Avoid single-use plastics as much as possible, and try to reuse the items you do get. Bring your own bags when you go shopping and drink from reusable water bottles. Try to cut down on paper and plastic plates and cutlery. Properly recycle any glass, metal, plastic, or paper that comes your way. This may seem like a no-brainer, but also do not put non-recyclable items (like broken glass, aerosol cans, styrofoam) in the recycling bin. And, mostly, try just to buy what you need to avoid excess or wasted items.

Eat responsibly.

Experts have found that eating vegan is likely to be the best for the environment. If you're not ready to take the full vegan plunge, simply cutting down on meat, and red meat in particular, will help lower your carbon footprint. This is because the farming of red meat, and cows themselves, give off more harmful emissions than other sorts of farming.

Another way to be more environmentally conscious with your food is to waste less. On average, Americans waste about 40 percent of the food they buy. That extra food is produced and shipped (creating pollution) for naught. The best way to avoid food waste is simply to buy less. Take a look around your kitchen and make a grocery list before you go food shopping to ensure you only buy what you need. Also, freezing some groceries allows your food to last longer, leaving you more time to eat it. Finally, make use of leftovers! Last night's chicken could be a great packed sandwich.

For the waste you do have, try to compost what you can. Look up your nearest composting site and bring food waste there, so it can be reused in soil. If you live in New York City, you can find a list of composting sites here.

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Shop smart.

We all love a good wardrobe refresh, and it's hard to avoid a good deal. However, so-called "fast fashion" takes a toll on the environment. Cheap clothing is often made unsustainably and in countries like China and Bangladesh, which also requires fossil fuels for shipping. When those clothes go out of style, they are often dumped in landfills, creating further pollution.

If you're in the market for new clothes, try to buy fewer, more sustainable items. Some clothes even have a fair-trade logo, which indicates that they've been made sustainably. Otherwise, look into the brands you buy and the fabrics you choose (try to avoid synthetics).

The best option, however, is shopping vintage. You'll help the environment and perhaps find a diamond in the rough. Also, don't forget to donate or sell old clothing rather than throwing it away. Companies like Thred Up and The RealReal specialize in reselling used clothing. Thred Up will even give you a bonus if you receive payment in the form of a credit to a partner store (like Reformation or M. M. LaFleur) rather than cash.

In terms of donations, many organizations will either donate your clothes to the less fortunate or use them for different purposes (as rags or in animal shelters, for example). Try the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or a local church or homeless shelter.

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