Understanding your carbon footprint
Understanding your carbon footprint is a simple way to measure how much impact your lifestyle is having on the environment.
From climate change to deforestation and the pollution of the oceans, it’s never been more vital to understand the ways in which our actions might be negatively impacting the environment.
The first step to change is education, and by learning more about your carbon footprint, you can look for opportunities to reduce it and encourage others to do the same.
What is a carbon footprint?
Your ‘carbon footprint’ measures the amount of greenhouse gases produced directly or indirectly through your lifestyle and actions. This is also sometimes referred to as an environmental footprint.
Nearly everything we do releases some amount of carbon into the atmosphere – it’s nearly impossible to avoid, and therefore unrealistic to have a carbon footprint of zero.
However, how much carbon you release depends on a number of factors, meaning everyday choices can increase or decrease the size of your footprint and get you to ‘carbon neutral’.
It’s also useful to measure the size of your carbon footprint by household or business, and increasingly more and more families and businesses are pledging to be carbon neutral.
Big household names like Marks & Spencer, Google and car hire company Avis have all adapted the way they work to become carbon neutral, showing it can be done.
What impacts it?
The food you eat, how much you travel and the energy you use to power your household are just some of the factors that impact the size of your carbon footprint.
If you frequently fly or use a car to commute long distances, it’s likely your carbon footprint will be higher.
The amount of meat you eat and where you purchase your food from can also contribute to the size of your carbon footprint. As can your energy supplier, and the amount of things you buy and own.
The simplest way to understand your carbon footprint is by calculating it. The WWF has a brilliant online tool to help you do this. By answering a simple questionnaire, you can quickly determine the size of your footprint and weigh this against the UK average, as well as government targets for 2020.
Offsetting your carbon footprint
There’s dozens of big and small ways you can minimise and offset your carbon footprint.
Where you can, look to minimise your carbon footprint. You can do this by:
- Cycling and public transport – Keeping cars off the road wherever possible helps limit the pollution that driving creates. Cycling is a great opportunity to get exercise and creates zero emissions, and taking the train or bus can significantly reduce the amount of pollution you generate by going from A to B.
- Quality not quantity – When shopping for clothing, beauty products, and other household items, go for quality over quantity. The production of ‘fast fashion’ generates a huge amount of waste. You can help turn the tides by shopping second hand where possible and investing in items that you’re likely to wear and use for years to come. When shopping for toiletries, choose items with the least amount of packaging possible. Brands like Lush make it easy to switch to bar shampoo, for example, without sacrificing on things like quality and scent.
- Say goodbye to red meat – The most environmentally thing you can do to your diet is to go vegan, but if you’re not interested in such a drastic move, there’s plenty of other ways you can make a difference. Factory farming produces a lot of greenhouse gases, and by simply cutting down on the amount of red meat you eat you can make a huge difference. Packaging and transporting produce also increases the environmental impact of food, so where possible, cook using local produce and try to avoid food waste. Eating foods that are ‘in season’ is another simple way to cut your environmental footprint down.
- Switch energy providers – It’s never been simpler to go green at home, and you can do so by switching to an energy supplier that uses 100% renewable energy. These companies are driving huge change in the energy industry, and it’s now possible to go green at home in a way that’s simple, straightforward, and completely cost effective. All good comparison sites now make it easy for you to find the best deals on green, renewable energy tariffs and are well worth a look.
- Monitor energy usage – Smart meters and wifi-controlled thermostats and light switches all help you monitor how much energy you’re using and reduce it, too. Look into how you can embrace these technologies at home, and if you can, encourage your employer to do the same.
Your carbon footprint might be larger for factors you can’t control. If you have family who lives abroad or are required to travel regularly for work, your footprint will be larger because you do a lot of air travel.
Or, for example, a physical disability may make it impossible for you to cycle or use public transport. Or perhaps you live alone, meaning your living situation increases the size of your footprint.
Don’t be disheartened if this is the case – if the size of your carbon footprint is unavoidable, you can aim to neutralise it by offsetting.
Simply put, offsetting your carbon footprint is the process by which you compensate for your carbon emissions by funding carbon-saving initiatives elsewhere. There are many charities that make it possible for you to do this with a simple donation, and companies are now making it easy to go carbon neutral with a simple donation. Look for opportunities to offset your carbon emissions when booking flights and other modes of travel.
Do you know your carbon footprint? Share your results in the comments below
Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor
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