Carbon footprint. Going green. Greenhouse gas emissions. We hear these terms a lot these days – everybody is "going green," or reducing their "carbon footprint," but what exactly do these terms mean and how do they affect you? Or, better yet, how can you go green or reduce your carbon footprint?
It's important to take steps to reduce your impact on the environment, but it's also important to understand the impact of these steps and the role they play in preserving our planet. A carbon footprint is the mark you leave on the earth's climate through everyday activities, such as driving and using electricity. It is most often expressed in pounds or metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide, along with methane and nitrous oxide, are greenhouse gases (GHG) and make up most of our carbon footprint. Greenhouse gases, both natural and manmade, are gases in the atmosphere that affect the temperature of the earth.
When people say they're "going green" or "reducing their carbon footprint," it means they're taking steps to reduce the impact their day-to-day activities have on the environment. This is achieved by reducing and offsetting GHG emissions. Individuals and corporations, such as TD Bank, may also go carbon neutral, which means they reduce energy consumption and purchase offsets, in the form of verified emission reduction, that are equivalent to the energy they are unable to conserve. Online resources, such as www.carbonfund.org, can help you calculate your carbon footprint and, if interested, purchase carbon offsets for the energy you may not be able to conserve.
However, there is no purchase necessary to reduce your impact on the environment. There are simple things you can do every day to reduce your carbon footprint, some of which may even save you money. Here are 21 simple steps you can take at home to help reduce your impact on the environment:
- Turn off the lights – Less electricity used means less CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
- Unplug unused electronics – Seventy-five percent of all electricity consumed in the home is standby power used to keep electronics running.
- Change your bulbs – Replace all the light bulbs you use for general lighting with CFL lamps. A 60-watt incandescent light bulb can be replaced with a 13-watt CFL, which is five times more efficient and will last almost three times longer. Since CFL lamps contain a small amount of mercury, make sure you recycle them properly. Some retailers, such as Ikea, Home Depot and Radio Shack, will accept your used CFL lamps and recycle them for you.
- Use less paper – The pulp and paper industry is the third largest emitter of GHG emissions. Use less paper at work and at home, use more post-consumer paper products, and recycle all of your cardboard and newsprint.
- Pay bills online – It is a lot more efficient to make bytes of information than pulp for paper, and it is a lot more efficient to transport information electronically than through the mail. If every house in America paid bills electronically, 2.1 million tons of GHG emissions would be avoided each year.
- Plant more trees – A single mature tree can absorb CO2 at a rate of 48 pounds per year and release enough oxygen to support two human beings.
- Cut down on your commute – Every mile less you drive in a compact car can avoid approximately 1.1 pounds of CO2 emissions.
- Take public transportation – Public transit saves an estimated 14 million tons of CO2 a year by reducing the number of cars on the road.
- Hang up your clothes – Over its lifetime, a single t-shirt can contribute 9 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. An estimated 60 percent of the energy associated with an article of clothing is used washing and drying it.
- Give fleece a new life – Fleece clothing made from Polartec or Capilene can be made into new fabric. Companies like Patagonia will recycle these materials regardless of brand to make new fiber for their clothes. More information can be found at www.Patagonia.com/recycle.
- Think vintage – Reusing and repurposing old clothes can be stylish and good for the environment. Three percent of all farmed land globally is used to grow cotton, whose production accounts for about one quarter of chemical pesticides used. The less we use farmland to grow cotton, the more land we have to grow food or to plant forests.
- Turn down the heat – For every one degree cooler you keep the house in the winter and one degree warmer you keep it in the summer you save about 2 percent on your energy bill.
- Open a window – Let nature do more of your heating and cooling. You will feel better and help reduce the estimated 25 metric tons of CO2 emissions that every American is responsible for each year.
- Get a home energy audit – Many local utilities offer home energy audit services. A home energy audit can help the average family reduce their CO2 emissions by 1,000 pounds per year as well as save money on their energy bills.
- Be an ENERGY STAR – When it is time to replace appliances and equipment around the home, look for ENERGY STAR rated products. They consume 35 percent less energy on average.
- Wrap your water heater – An insulated water heater blanket costs $10 to $20 and can reduce a typical household's annual CO2 emissions by about 250 pounds.
- Eat your greens – Eat a vegetarian meal once a week (or more). A family of four can reduce their carbon footprint by about 937 pounds per year by eating vegetarian once a week. The process of getting meat and poultry from the farm to your table is quite energy intensive.
- Bring your own bag – Only 3 percent of the estimated 50 billion plastic bags produced each year are recycled. The plastics and chemicals industries are energy intensive and large emitters of GHG emissions. Try to get in the habit of reusing and recycling your plastic bags or using cloth bags.
- Waste not, want not – Landfills produce methane, which is considered more harmful to the environment than CO2. The less organic waste you send to the landfill helps reduce GHG emissions into the atmosphere. Add composting to the mix and you get a beneficial by-product instead!
- Be a locivore – Support local farmers and farm markets. It helps reduce CO2 emissions from transporting food from the far corners of the planet. Every less gallon of fuel needed to transport your food from factory farm to table saves between 17 and 19 pounds of CO2.
- Recycle – Many of the products you have lying around your home, from CFL lamps to batteries and electronics, can be recycled. Visit www.earth911.com to find the nearest recycling location for the products you are looking to discard.