As the proverb goes, “Many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world.” When it comes to the environment, what are the small things that we can do to have the most positive impact?
All of our daily activities – from eating, to what we wear, to how we get around and what we buy – create carbon emissions that have an impact on our planet. But which aspect of our lives is the most polluting – and at the same time, which aspect is the one where we have the most opportunity to change for the better? Well, it all depends on where and how you live. Using an online carbon calculator (like this ones from the United Nations, the British organization Carbon Footprint or this one from the Global Footprint Network) can help you get a rough idea of your carbon footprint and identify those areas where there’s most room for improvement.
Even if you already have a pretty good idea of what part of your life is the least sustainable, it can be interesting to do a quick rough calculation of your emissions and then save the result. A few months down the line, once you’ve adopted new habits, you’ll be able to see how much CO2 you’ve saved.
Once you’ve worked out your carbon footprint, chose an impactful aspect of your life where you are able – and willing – to make that change. It might be tempting to set yourself ambitious goals to make radical changes to your lifestyle, but you’re more likely to be successful taking smaller, more easily-achievable and convenient steps.
There are countless things that you can do, but here are a few ideas from three key areas.
If you want to shrink your carbon footprint in this area, one thing to do would be to try to do your bit to reduce your food waste: plan meals in advance to avoid throwing things away, find a way to compost any leftovers, and maybe use an app like Too Good To Go (now available in several European countries) to buy up leftover food from restaurants and bakeries to stop it being thrown away. Changing your diet can also help. Do you know the water footprint of what you eat? Beef is one of the most water-intensive foods there is, requiring 15,000 litres of water per kg, followed by red meat – so simply by reducing your meat consumption, you can reduce your footprint dramatically. Another idea is to increase your own self-sufficiency and eat more seasonal food (that hasn’t been flown around the world to your plate) by starting your own (urban) vegetable garden.
One simple way to reduce your carbon footprint is by switching to a green energy supplier, one that only sells electricity from renewable sources. There are also companies working to make it easier for your to produce your own green energy at home (without having to install solar panels on your roof) like with plug and play PV systems and solar power stations for your balcony. Getting involved in sharing economy is also a good way to reduce your energy footprint – because by borrowing bikes, books and even electronics, rather than buying them, helps save the energy it takes to produce those things in the first place. You can reduce your digital energy footprint too and all the energy being used by data servers, really easily, by simply cleaning up your email inbox.
While solutions are still being worked on to try and reduce the huge environmental impact of air travel (electric planes, or planes powered by landfill, anyone?), one simple low-carbon option is to try to keep flights to a minimum and whenever possible, use other means of land-based transport, such as trains. And if you’re travelling within a city, look out for those increasingly prevalent e-bike sharing services to help you get around. In those cities that have the Trafi app you can check the availability of all kinds of shared and public transport options – such as car and bike shares, busses and Ubers – and also pay for the transport automatically online. And if owning your own car is for some reason unavoidable, then just make sure it’s electric.