Sustainable - a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. So much so, it’s become something we say without really thinking about what we mean.
A report by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) defines sustainability as ‘focusing on meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’
We like this definition because it gives sustainability a purpose; it makes it bigger than just being ‘a good thing to do’. It means the choices you make have a ripple effect on people today (because vulnerable communities are already suffering the repercussions of climate change) and on people in the future.
Whether it’s your kids, your friend’s kids, your siblings or even strangers you’ll never meet, what can you—one tiny human amongst billions of people—do to help build a sustainable world for people present and future?
Build eco living into your daily routine.
There are multiple facets to environmental sustainability; from conserving nature to reducing waste and emissions, to protecting indigenous cultures.Each interlink but can also contradict one another; for example, compostable plastics are better from a pollution perspective, but because they decompose they could actually increase carbon emissions if they are hailed as the solution to single-use plastics (Hint: the solution is reusable options!)
In this guide, we focus on ways you can reduce your carbon footprint (or pawprint, as we like to call it) at home but also explore what these actions might mean for the other environmental issues. Understanding it from all perspectives empowers you to make choices that will have the biggest impact, on your pawprint but also on the planet as a whole.
‘Carbon footprint’ is a term used to describe the total amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) that is emitted from your actions. For example, when you drive a mile to the shops your car emits around half a kg of CO2e.
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is a term used to explain greenhouse gases in the context of carbon dioxide and its global warming potential.
Your carbon footprint over the course of that journey would therefore rise by 0.5 kgs, plus some if you have appliances on standby at home, if you pay for services that create carbon emissions, etc.
Think of your carbon footprint as a pile of sand that keeps getting bigger every day. The average UK carbon footprint is 12.7 tonnes CO2e per year—enough sand to fill a 2㎥ box. Globally, we emit over 36 billion tonnes of CO2e each year. That’s 2.7 billion 2㎥ boxes. Learn more about what a carbon footprint is here.
Why should I reduce my carbon footprint at home?
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the earth’s temperature to rise. This will create, and is creating, a host of issues including food and water shortages, animal extinctions and an increase in natural disasters and infectious diseases.
It’s going to take mass global effort to reverse this process, and every little helps. That’s where you come in. When reducing your personal carbon footprint, home is a good place to start because it’s completely within your control. For the most part, you choose what to bring into and take out of your home, so there’s ample opportunity to make changes that will really make a difference.
Plus, the Green Homes Grant (where the government will pay at least two-thirds of the cost of home improvements that save energy) means you can invest in making your home more eco, without spending an arm and a leg!
Why should I reduce my carbon footprint when businesses’ are so massive?
This is something we get asked a lot, and our answer is always the same: yes, businesses have huge carbon footprints compared to individuals, and they need to take responsibility for that. But you have more power than you think. Even if you make a minimal reduction to your carbon footprint, the actions that you’ll have taken to do so are signalling to businesses and governments that it’s something you, and others like you, care about. We call this your ‘signal power’.
Think of it like this; if you choose to get militant about recycling, bins and trucks will fill up faster. If 50 other people do the same, then the council will have reason to invest in more pickups and more recycling options. Businesses will spot an opportunity and create alternative solutions to public recycling schemes. In turn, these options might encourage new people to start (or get better at) recycling. All of a sudden, a small effort by a small group of people becomes something bigger. And the planet benefits from it!
Washing on lower temperatures/the eco setting.
Choosing one with a good energy rating (A+++).
70 kg CO2e/year
Choosing one with a good energy rating (A+++).
Cleaning the lint filter regularly
260 kg CO2e/year
Taking shorter showers.
Installing a water efficient shower head.
35 kg CO2e/year
Switching to LEDs.
Reducing time lights are left on by making use of natural light.
Installing sensors that turn lights off when a room is empty.
180 kg CO2e/year
Limiting fridge staring.
Allowing food to cool before refrigerating or freezing it.
Keeping the freezer full but not packed.
Choosing one with a good energy rating (A+++).
150 kg CO2e/year
*Remember that while energy efficient appliances may be more expensive, over time you can save money (or at least break even) because you’ll spend less on bills. For example, replacing a 60W incandescent bulb with a 7W LED will save around £16 per year. The upfront cost of this bulb is about £9, so it will have paid itself off within 9 months. Estimates are based on the UK grid and averages in 2020.
Another way to make a big difference at home is to reduce waste. In 2018 UK households produced over 26 million tonnes of waste (DEFRA). That’s enough rubbish to fill over 20,000 Big Bens—all stood in a line that’d stretch 155 miles long!
45% of this was recycled, but the most common ending for waste that wasn’t is a spot on the landfill heap.
As mentioned earlier, living sustainably involves tackling a wide range of environmental issues. The pollution problem is a major one—did you know there’s a rubbish island floating in the pacific that’s double the size of Texas?!
You can do something about this by following the ‘reduce, recycle’ philosophy: reduce waste wherever possible, and recycle everything you can.
Top 5 ways to reduce the waste in your home:
Meal plan - avoid last minute decision making in the supermarket (which usually means you buy things you don’t need) by planning your weekly meals in advance. This encourages you to try recipes that use up whatever you have in excess.
Opt out of junk mail - its carbon footprint, and the space it takes up in landfill, is pointless. You can opt out here and here.
Refuse/remove plastic - Carry: reusable bags (even small ones for loose items like mushrooms), a tupperware, a water bottle and a metal strawBuy: bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax cling film, bars of soap and shampoo, compostable sponges
Compost - first priority: eat as much of the food you buy as possible. Second: compost what you have left over. Check if your local authority offers a food waste collection serviceIf not then BBC Food have a really useful guide to home composting options
Make your own - this is the era of convenience, and we’re all slaves to it. But if you’re really committed to reducing waste, making things you’d normally buy can really help. Some ideas include: Popcorn/crisps (pop them in your tupperware for on-the-go snacking)Cleaning products (vinegar and lemon work wonders)Cloths (an old duvet cover or pillow case need not go in the bin)Hummus (tahini, chickpeas, olive oil; bish, bash, bosh)
Top 5 items to recycle (that you might not know you can):
Aluminium foil/trays/tubes (e.g. tomato puree) - just remove the plastic lid from tubes and collect foil until there’s enough to bunch it up into a ball the size of a small fist
Empty deodorant/hairspray aerosols - just remove the plastic cap
Beer bottle caps - pop the lid back onto the bottle and recycle it in the glass bottle bank
Clothing/textiles you can’t donate - some councils collect unwanted textiles and clothing. If yours doesn’t, drop it off at a recycling point (usually in supermarkets or car parks)
Toothpaste tubes - Colgate and Terracyle offer a recycling scheme for oral care products that enables you to drop off your tubes at a local deposit. Pump action tubes can be recycled if your authority also collects plastic pots, tubs and trays.
Challenge yourself to live sustainably at home
It’s challenge time!We challenge you to make three lifestyle changes that will reduce your carbon footprint by up to 1 tonne CO2e per year.**Estimates are based on the UK grid in 2020.
Look for a company that generates its own energy or sources it from companies generating energy from renewable sources.
There are two in the UK that do this—Good Energy and Ecotricity.
CO2e saving for an average-sized house: tricky one. See below
By using providers that support renewable generation, the grid will have more access to renewables and less need to rely on non-renewables. So it’s absolutely, unequivocally a good thing. However, it’s tricky to quantify on an individual or household level, because (even if you are on a renewable energy tariff) the energy powering your home is still exactly the same as the energy powering your neighbours—it’s not possible to direct renewable energy to some homes and not others. So, technically, your carbon footprint isn’t directly affected just because you’re on a renewable tariff.
Calculate your own energy footprint: To do this calculation you need to know:
X: how much electricity, on average, you use per year in kWh
Y: how much gas, on average, you use per year in kWh
UK grid | Biogas/natural gas
(X*0.34) + (Y*0.22) = The estimated carbon footprint of your energy usage, in kg
Additional info: The National Grid, which sends energy to your home, comes from a mix of sources. According to statistics released by the government in March 2021, we’re currently generating about 43% of our energy from renewables (59% from ‘low-carbon’ generation) and the rest from non-renewable sources.
LEDs have a bad rep for giving off a cold, un-attractive light. But that’s an outdated preconception; modern LEDs give off just as much light as other bulbs, you can buy them in warm colours, and they can cut your lighting costs by 90%.
CO2e saving for an average-sized house: 74 kg CO2e per year.
Calculate your own estimate saving:
To do this calculation you need to know:
X: how many halogen bulbs you’ll be switching
Y: how many incandescent bulbs you’ll be switching
Z: how many hours, on average, you leave lights on per day
Top tip: fill in the variables, copy the equation into excel or Google sheets and press enter. It’ll do the hard work for you!
Additional info: When you’re switching anything in your house there’s always going to be a waste element, especially if what you’re getting rid of still works. In this instance, the best way to limit this waste is to dispose of your bulbs correctly. We’ve included a quick summary below, but for more information visit RecycleNow.
Halogen/incandescent bulbs: normal household waste
LEDs/CFLs: household waste recycling centres
From an economical perspective, the upfront cost of LEDs is higher but they last much longer (some LEDs can last two decades with average use) and they’ll shrink your energy bill.
Tumble dryers are energy guzzlers. Sometimes they’re a necessary evil (“rainy day, something bad spilt on bedsheets, no other option” kinda situations) but more often than not they’re just convenient. We challenge you to use it just once less per week!
Average CO2e saving: 70 kg CO2e per year
Calculate your own estimate CO2e saving per year:
To do this calculation you need to know:
X: how many kWh your tumble dryer uses per cycle
Top tip: Most modern tumble dryers will document a full load’s energy consumption on their product fiche. You can usually find this online. X*0.34*52 = your estimated annual CO2e saving for one less load per week. You’ll possibly even save a bit more than that, because using your tumble dryer less should increase its life expectancy. The longer something lasts, the better for the planet!
Additional info: Aside from line drying, there are a number of other ways you can be kind to the planet when it comes to washing. Ever thought about what’s in that detergent you use, and where all that soapy water goes post-wash?
Be kind to the planet when you wash by:
Using chemical-free/low chemical detergents that are cruelty free
Using a delicate washing cycle for everyday washes, or using a washing bag, to reduce microplastics from entering the water system
Washing at 30℃. Modern detergents will wash fine at a lower temperature and, according to Energy Saving Trust you can save up to 40% on energy.
At Pawprint, we split a carbon footprint up into 5 toes—Diet, Travel, Home and Other (the fifth toe keeps track of the carbon you save when you complete our personalised challenges). Learn more about your Travel, Diet and Other footprint on our blog.
For more eco friendly living tips to make your home sustainable, check out our Low Carbon Living in Lockdown series:
Low carbon living in lockdown
6 more tips to try at home
Low carbon in lockdown
The last of the low carbon lockdown
Got a question about how to live a sustainable lifestyle at home? We’d love to answer it! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org we’ll get back to you.
We hope this guide has sparked some ideas for how to reduce the carbon footprint. To better understand your carbon footprint, and learn how to reduce it through your everyday activities, try Pawprint. It’s fun, it’s free and it’s for everyone—for the vegetarians, the vegans and the meat-eaters; the travellers, the shopaholics, and the homebodies. We’re for anyone and everyone who wants to do their bit. Because fighting climate change isn’t about what you can’t do. It’s about what you can do.