Homes make up about 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. So if you’re looking to shrink your carbon footprint, start at home. To reduce your house’s carbon footprint, the most effective thing to do is switching to green heating and electricity. But understandably, this may be too costly for a lot of people.
The next best thing to do is make sure your home is well-insulated. Trapping heat effectively is a surefire way to trim down your energy usage – the biggest producer of carbon emissions in the home. Make sure heat drains like gusty lofts and window frames are fully stoppered up. Beyond this you can make additional efforts to draught proof your house – by blocking the edges of doors and windows for example. Replacing an inefficient gas boiler can yield important energy gains, and another tip is replacing halogen bulbs with more energy efficient LED bulbs.
When it comes to short distances, defaulting to a car quickly racks up your carbon output. For distances over a thousand kilometers, driving alone actually has a higher carbon footprint per kilometer than flying the same distance. Going carless for one year could reduce your emissions by about 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
But for many, it’s important to acknowledge that alternatives are limited: for people based in more rural areas, or those underserved by public transport, a car might be the only option to get around. But for city dwellers, there is generally always a better, more carbon-friendly alternative. Weigh up your options: can you take a bus, tube or tram? Walk? Cycle? If you are in ownership of a car, you can spread your carbon burden by inviting people to share your commute.
If you are a frequent car user, consider switching to an electric car. Although the electricity you feed into your vehicle will be partly produced by non-renewable energy, electric vehicles (EVs) are much more efficient, meaning overall CO2 emissions are lower. The lifetime emissions for an EV in Europe are between 66 and 69 per cent lower compared to that of a fossil fuel-powered car.
However, the embedded carbon of a new electric vehicle has to be taken into account. The CO2 produced in manufacturing the car might be higher than the lifetime emissions of the vehicle depending on how often you use it. It might be better to instead maintain your current vehicle and aim to cut down your usage.
Any new purchase comes with an embedded carbon price tag. “The embodied carbon in everything we buy, particularly single use or throw away stuff, has a real, big impact on our climate,” says Reay. This is especially pertinent for items we only use sporadically, for example lawnmowers or power drills.
“If you think about your phone, it’s all the components – all those metal and plastic parts – and all of the energy that’s got into it,” Reay says. “It has quite a big carbon footprint, and we’re buying a new one each year.” Indeed, Apple has released figures showing that 80 per cent of a product’s carbon footprint is wrapped up in its production process, rather than the energy it consumes once it’s completed. Planned obsolescence means that we’re cycling through new handsets faster than ever before, with many of the discards simply being thrown in the bin. Reuse and reduce should form the pillars of your sustainable ideology.
And fast fashion – exemplified by the likes of £5 dresses from Primark and Zara’s weekly stock rotation – is hugely harmful to the planet. Aside from the production process itself – which expels 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 a year (more than the aviation and shipping industries combined) – the wear-once-then-toss attitude permeating high street fashion means that racks of flimsy clothes are quickly transformed into one million tonnes of waste a year, much of will be incinerated or added to landfill. Although difficult to do an exact calculation on the amount of carbon saved in buying second hand versus buying new (this would need to take into account factors such as the intensity of the production process, and how many times the piece of clothing had already been worn), research from WRAP found that extending the average life of clothes by just three months up to two years and five months would result in a five to ten per cent reduction in carbon, water and waste footprints of the items.