Reducing Your Carbon Footprint: A How-to Guide

Discover how to reduce your carbon footprint across all areas of your lifestyle to contribute to a healthier planet.

Autor*in Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 06.03.24

According to the Global Footprint Network, we currently consume more resources per year than our planet can produce in the same timeframe. Their calculations show that it takes the planet 18 months to regenerate everything that we use in a 12 month period. In 2024, Earth Overshoot Day is August 1st – meaning that by that date we had taken more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. There are many simple things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Learn how to reduce your footprint in each consumption category: transportation, housing, food and goods. Use a carbon footprint calculator to discover your own biggest areas of resource consumption and compare your own footprint to that of others.

Use cleaner transportation

  • Don’t drive when there is an alternative! Walk, bike, or take public transport whenever possible. If you don’t own and drive a car on average you can reduce your total ecological footprint by as much as 20 percent. Using a car less will reduce your carbon footprint, help to avoid traffic jams and keep the air cleaner.
  • If you need a car, choose a small one and reduce the mileage. Smaller, and mainly smaller-engined, cars are usually much more energy efficient than larger ones.
  • Check your car regularly. Have your vehicle serviced regularly to keep the emission control systems operating at peak efficiency. Check your car’s air filter monthly, and keep the tyres adequately inflated to maximise gas mileage. If you sit idle for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine (except in traffic).
  • Avoid short aeroplane trips – take a bus or train instead. Flights cause a large and growing part of our collective footprint – it has two to four times the impact of CO2 emissions on climate change because it releases water vapour and nitrous oxide at high altitudes. If you can’t avoid flying, make clearing donations to projects on climate protection. Or utilise the emission calculator on Atmosfair to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions are caused by your flights. With your donation to Atmosfair, you enable them to run projects where these emissions will be saved.

Add energy-saving features to your home

  • Install energy-saving lamps in your home – but be sure to dispose of old bulbs safely.
  • Make sure your walls and ceilings are insulated, and consider double-pane windows. Explore green design features for your building, like passive solar heating, a rainwater catchment or greywater recycling system, and recycled materials.
  • Choose energy-efficient appliances, including low-flow shower heads, faucets, and toilets.
  • Choose furnishings that are second-hand, recycled, or sustainably produced.
  • Use biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products – for your health and environment.

Cultivate energy-saving habits

  • Keep the thermostat relatively low in winter and ease up on the air conditioning in summer. Keep your A/C filters clean to keep the A/C operating at peak efficiency.
  • Unplug your electronics when not in use. To make it easier, use a power strip. Even when turned off, your television, computer, and cellphone charger still sip power.
  • Dry your clothes naturally whenever possible rather than using power-guzzling tumble dryers.
  • Defrost your refrigerator and freezer regularly.

Reduce your food and goods footprint

  • Shop at your local farmer’s market. Look for local, in-season foods that haven’t travelled long distances to reach you. Organic and other forms of low-input farming that use minimal or no pesticides and fertilisers – which are energy intensive in their manufacture – consume up to 40 percent less energy and support higher levels of wildlife on farms.
  • Choose foods with less packaging to reduce waste.
  • Plant a garden! Growing our own fruit and vegetables reduces all the energy and waste which normally goes into getting food from the field to our plates – such as transport, refrigeration and packaging. In your garden, you can compost food waste as well. Garbage that is not contaminated with degradable (biological) waste can be more easily recycled and sorted.
  • Going meatless for just one meal a week can make a difference – more often is even better! A vegan diet produces 75% less emissions than a diet with meat, drastically reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Buy less! Try to get your things repaired – this supports local business and avoids waste. Replace items only when you really need to and try to buy quality products that will have a longer life span.
  • Recycle all your paper, glass, aluminium, and plastic. Don’t forget electronics! Do an online search to find the recycling options in your area.

Try out easy ways to save water

  • Take shorter, less frequent showers – this saves water and energy.
  • Run the dishwasher and the washing machine only when full.
  • Wash your car less often. Take it to a carwash; usually, commercial carwashes use less water per wash than you would need at home.
  • Avoid hosing down or power-washing your deck, walkways, or driveway. Regularly look for and fix leaks.
  • Plant drought-tolerant plants in your garden and yard.

Find more water-saving tips here.

Purchase carbon offsets

Reducing your carbon footprint is always better than offsetting carbon afterwards, but for the emissions you can’t eliminate, you have the option to purchase carbon offsets. Individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel. Emissions calculator Atmosfair figures out how much greenhouse gas emissions are caused by individual flights and offers carbon offsets. 

Offsets are typically achieved through financial support of projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term. The most common type of project is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, the destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects. Just make sure to verify the validity of the carbon offset scheme you choose, to make sure you’re not purchasing phantom carbon offsets.

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