Avoiding the Rebound Effect
And then what? How to use your savings without causing yet more emissions
It is very easy to spend any money that you’ve saved from reducing your greenhouse gas emissions in a way that inadvertently causes other emissions. For example, if you buy a smaller, lower emissions car you may be tempted to drive further simply because the new car is more efficient or to spend your savings on a different, high carbon activity! This is called ‘rebound’ and if you actually cause greater emissions than you avoided in the first place this is described as ‘backfire’! So, your first aim should always be to use the money you saved in a way that protects the cut in emissions that you have just achieved.
Here are some suggestions for ways to spend your savings. It is best not to spend them on buying more belongings, because most items require energy, and therefore cause emissions, in their manufacture and distribution. But, if you do need to buy something, then try and locate a source of good quality, second-hand goods which therefore will not incur more emissions. Instead, consider spending money on low carbon activities and events that you will add interest to your life and make you feel good.
● Spend on local low-carbon cultural and educational activities: e.g. concerts, theatres, restaurants (local food preferred), gardening, attending courses (learn to drive economically, learn IT skills or a foreign language, improve your cooking skills, etc). You could consider this sort of activity when choosing birthday or Christmas presents too.
● Spend on better quality food which is better for your health: e.g. buy local, seasonal, organic food or grow your own.
● Invest in further energy saving: e.g. install cavity-wall insulation, add to your loft insulation, replace old double-glazing with Band A (the best) windows, buy an energy meter to monitor your energy usage, or buy and wear warmer indoor clothing in winter (such as a body warmer or a thick woollen sweater).
● Choose lower carbon options: sometimes the lower carbon option can be more expensive, so you could use the savings to finance lower carbon options for purchases you would have made anyway. E.g. when taking holidays further afield, treat yourself to more expensive, but much lower-carbon, high-speed trains, thus avoiding the larger emissions and hassle of flying. Or when replacing a worn-out appliance such as a washing machine, choose a more energy efficient model (which may have a higher upfront cost, although its running costs should be lower).
● Support, subscribe or donate to environmental groups: obviously we’d like you to support WinACC, and there are lots of other environmental groups you could support as well. Make sure that you sign up to Gift Aid when you make a charity donation, if you are a UK taxpayer. Include such organisations in your will bequests.
● Give money to charities which help the Third World: many charities aim to adapt to or mitigate climate change and reduce population growth in developing countries. For example, those that improve women’s education, encourage self-help horticulture, etc.
● Invest your money: in genuinely ‘green’ investments, or in fine art or other collections of long-term value, or in a community renewable energy project such as a wind turbine.
● Save money: for a folding bicycle, a smaller, more efficient car, or further home insulation etc.
● Earn less: you might be able to work fewer hours as you no longer need to earn as much to maintain your current lifestyle.
Finally, it is useful to measure your carbon footprint regularly to help you check you are being successful at reducing it. It can be instructive and satisfying to compare your footprint from year to year by monitoring your emissions from energy use in the home and from travel to work or on holiday.
Suggestions for further reading:
“When energy-saving does not mean saving energy”, The Guardian, 5 June 2011,
“Could the rebound effect undermine climate efforts?”, The Guardian, 22 February 2011,
If you would like to give feedback on this site, or have any suggestions for improvement, please contact us. We are particularly keen to hear about other organisations and initiatives in and around Winchester which can help people reduce their carbon footprint.
The information on this page is provided in good faith and reflects our understanding of the underlying science and technology at the time of writing, but we cannot guarantee that it is wholly accurate. All figures for costs, savings and other matters are estimates: the actual figures will depend on your particular circumstances and may differ (perhaps significantly) from those shown. Although we have included links to various organisations, we are not recommending these organisations: it is your responsibility to check that they are suitable for your needs. Nonetheless, if you experience difficulties with any of the links or organisations, or believe that any of the information presented here is inaccurate, please let us know and we will update this page if we consider it necessary.