Sustainability. Recycle. Reduce. Reuse. Conserve. These words are thrown at us to encourage more eco-friendly living. But what do they really entail? Is leaving a light on in an empty room that big of a deal? Is not recycling that empty bottle or can really going to harm the earth? The answer is complicated, but one thing is for certain; everyday choices can make a big impact on your carbon footprint.
Estimating a single person’s carbon footprint takes into account a number of factors. The size of a home, whether it’s an oceanside mansion or a tiny one bedroom apartment, obviously makes a difference in the impact to the environment. The location of your home, specifically country and climate, also are a factor. Car size and efficiency also play a role, as well as the number of miles driven. If you own a mid-size car but have a long commute, your footprint might be bigger than someone who drives an SUV but puts on less miles. Even the number of miles you travel on a train, bus or airplane plays a part in your carbon footprint.
A couple easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to use power strips to plug in lights and other electronics that do not require a constant power source. Though turning things off when not in use does reduce electricity use, plugging items into a power strip allows you to cut off the electricity completely. Even though a device may be off, it still slowly draws power, and like a dripping faucet, it adds up quickly and is all wasted electricity. Unplugging small appliances such as the toaster or coffee maker also has a similar effect.
Another cheap and easy way to conserve is to install water saving faucet heads on sinks and showers. These reduce the flow of water, eliminating waste. Similar devices can be installed on toilets to decrease the flow of water after flushing.
Obviously, recycling things like plastic, tin, aluminum, glass and paper is tedious and not as convenient as throwing it away, but every bottle, container and jar adds up to help prevent strains on the environment. Using your own reusable bags in stores rather than plastic or paper is good for the environment, too. If you do use plastic bags, bring them back to a store that will recycle them for you.
Even your diet affects your carbon footprint. Meats like beef take a great deal of resources to produce and distribute and cause a lot of harmful chemicals and gasses to be released into the atmosphere. Cutting back or buying locally produced food is a good way to reduce these effects.
Knowing how the power you demand is created also weighs in on the carbon footprint. Whether it be coal, biomass, wind or something in between, each power source has some negative effect on the environment. Many utility companies offer discounts to people willing to have their heat or air conditioning cycled off during peak electricity demand times. It is a nice incentive that saves money, electricity and the environment.
Reducing your carbon footprint can mean changing all aspects of your life. Though it may be hard to get used to at first, the small changes add up quickly and ensure the future of the earth. Searching online for how to calculate your carbon footprint brings up many results. Some will even allow you to find out how many earths it will take to sustain your current lifestyle.
I tested a few out myself and found I would need four and a half earths to sustain me. Though less than the average American, that’s not saying much considering we are one of the most wasteful countries in the world. No matter how much you reduce, you will always have some footprint, but if everyone does a little the savings will add up.