What is my carbon footprint and how can I reduce it?

Masha Gribova
18 November 2020
3 minute read

“Everyone has a carbon footprint whether they know it or not” says Michelle Li, Founder of Clever Carbon. “It would be tempting to think that only corporations, manufacturers, and companies have one. But individuals have one and I guess your pet has one too!”

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How do I figure out my carbon footprint?

“Everything we consume from the food we eat, how we heat our homes, how and where we travel and the clothes we buy contribute to our carbon footprint” says Henry Muss, Founder of The Climate Resilience Company.

So how do you figure out the size of your footprint? Check out simple tools like Clever Carbon’s two minute quiz, or German site myclimate to test your footprint.

“The country you live in can really impact how high or low your footprint is,” says Michelle Li. Depending on whether you live in Vietnam, the UK or the US you could have a carbon footprint ranging from a modest 2.1 tonnes, to 8.3 tonnes to a vast 17.5 tonnes of CO2 per year.

What are the main contributors to my carbon footprint?

Flying. “The most impactful way to cut down on your carbon footprint is to scale back or completely cut out flying” says Henry Muss. “Just one short haul and one long haul flight can be equivalent to around two tonnes of CO2 which could be a quarter to a third of your personal carbon footprint.”

What’s on your plate, and where it’s travelled from. But don’t think that farmed beef or imported mangoes are the only carbon footprint offenders. As Michelle Li points out, “Seafood has a lower carbon footprint than animal protein. A serving of fish and shrimp are 1.8kg and 3.4kg while chicken and pork are 1.36kg and 1.8kg of CO2 respectively”

And even social media could be causing your carbon footprint to swell. Your device, your wireless network and all the data centres and servers needed to support the internet can all emit carbon dioxide.

How do I reduce my carbon footprint?

Ditch meat and cheese for beans, pulses, nuts and vegetables.. “Going from dairy to plant-based can be an easy switch and help you reduce your footprint by almost half in that category” says Michelle Li. Explore the BBC’s interactive quiz to see how your food and drink choices add up.

Change how you heat your home. Switching to green energy is one of the easiest and quickest ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and it doesn’t need to cost you more. Check out comparison site Big Clean Switch for an overview of all your green energy options.

Eat local. “Fruits and vegetables that are imported can have significantly higher footprint” says Michelle Li. “Buy from farmers markets if possible as less plastic packaging is used. Find a zero waste refill store near you (there are over 200 in the UK) and refill your wholefoods, herbs and spices, toiletries and even cleaning products. Less waste, less packaging being produced and lower carbon footprint.”

Simple changes add up to big reductions in carbon emissions. Try reducing your central heating by one degree. “It can cut your heating bills by 8-10%” says Henry Muss. Turning off the lights when you leave the room, switching off appliances at the mains, or boiling only as much water as you need? They can all combine to give you a lower fuel bill, a smaller carbon footprint and an easier conscience.

Fix your finances. “One study found that moving your pension savings to sustainable investment funds can be 27 times more efficient in reducing your carbon footprint than making changes like eating less meat, using the train instead of the car, flying less and taking shorter showers” says James Lindley, Managing Director of Castell Wealth Management. Check out environmentally responsible investment platforms like The Big Exchange, EQ Investors or Impax Environmental Markets.

Be a conscious consumer. “Write reviews for restaurants and shops with positive and constructive feedback” suggest Michelle Li. “If they go out of their way to reduce waste, call that out so that they know it’s important and will continue to do so and competitors will notice too. If they provide disposable utensils in a sit-in environment, provide a kind but constructive review to let them know you care about these things.”

And don’t forget the power of asking. “If you’re at a restaurant that doesn’t have a vegan option for what you want, even if you know the answer is no, still ask so that they can start collecting feedback and incorporating change” says Michelle Li. “Are coffee shops taking reusable cups yet? Can you get reusable instead of disposable cutlery at a sit-in restaurant? Every little bit helps!”

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