Top Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Leading climate scientists agree on the urgent need to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already added almost 500 billion tonnes of carbon (BtC) to the atmosphere, in the form of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), largely from the burning of fossil fuels. The vast majority of this CO2 remains in the atmosphere, where it has caused just under 1°C of global warming, and in the top layer of the ocean, where it has caused serious acidification. If the cumulative carbon emissions were to reach 1,000 BtC, the most likely peak global warming would be 2°C, with a range of 1.6-2.6°C. But 2°C is now considered to lie on the boundary between dangerous and extremely dangerous warming. This means that no more than 500 BtC can be added to the atmosphere without causing extremely dangerous global warming; yet in 2008 around 32 BtC was added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and this annual figure continues to grow. Furthermore, if all proven reserves of oil and gas were burnt that would add about 4,000 BtC to the atmosphere! Thus to avoid very dangerous global warming much of the remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground for ever, unless it can be burnt with efficient capture and storage of the emitted CO2. It may even be necessary to find ways of ‘sucking out’ much of the CO2 which has been added to the atmosphere in recent years.
To try and ensure that the UK plays its part in the world remaining beneath the 2°C limit, the UK parliament passed the Climate Change Act in November 2008. This commits the UK to a legally binding target to cut emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 with an intermediary target of 34% by 2020 to contribute to the overall aim of reducing global emissions by 50% by 2050. In July 2009 the G8 (industrialised) countries adopted the same targets. However, even these difficult-to-hit targets are now considered to be insufficient. More recently the UK’s 2011 Energy Act introduced further measures to reduce emissions. The main stated aims were to increase energy efficiency, secure low carbon energy supplies and improve fair competition in the energy markets.
No one single magic bullet will solve the problem. What is certain is that the industrialised nations must drastically cut their emissions and the non-industrialised ones must seek to develop without relying on fossil fuels for their economic growth. In theory these requirements can be met in only four ways: by reducing per capita wealth; by reducing the size of the population; by reducing energy use and by relying on low carbon energy sources. In practice, in a democracy, no politician is likely to be elected for suggesting either of the first two policy changes but this still leaves the last two. However it is clear that these two policies on their own are unlikely be sufficient without an overall reduction in global wealth (defined as the product of global per capita wealth and global population). All this means that strenuous and sustained action is necessary at every organisational level on the planet to confront the twin problems of climate change and the eventual and essential decline in fossil fuel production.
Changes made by individuals and households towards more efficient use of energy and materials and a switch to renewable energy are important but not sufficient on their own. In addition, to rapidly reduce global dependence on the unmitigated burning of fossil fuels we must act to require governments at all levels, energy corporations, other businesses and other organisations to change their policies to help create a cleaner, safer world. However, in the age of austerity we now appear to be entering it would be naïve to expect governments and many businesses to have the will and financial resources to solve these problems on their own. It will also be necessary to develop new, community-led initiatives from very small to large scale, financed in creative ways, perhaps with a combination of public, private and personal funds.
People often ask us what actions they can take as individuals and households. So, in addition to urging them to act to encourage government and other organisations to change, and to back community initiatives, WinACC has come up with our Top Tips for the most effective ways for reducing individual and household carbon footprint. The 10:10 campaign also has some useful suggestions. If you represent an organisation, the Carbon Trust has some energy saving Top Tips for organisations.
In general, the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to follow these three steps in turn:
- reduce energy consumption (this may cost nothing to do and generally saves you money)
- use energy more efficiently (this may cost money initially but makes a bigger impact on climate change)
- use or generate energy from renewable sources (this can be expensive but it will make the biggest impact).
We recommend that you first measure your carbon footprint, then follow the tips below to reduce it. You may already be following many of our suggestions, but we hope that you will be inspired to adopt others – we make no claim to originality!
Take care not to spend any money saved in a way that inadvertantly causes other emissions.
If you are not already a member of WinACC, please join us.
Our Top Tips are designed to be read on screen. However, if you need to print a copy, please use this downloadable summary PDF.
Electricity and Appliances
Appliances can use a surprising amount of energy when left on stand-by, so turn off appliances at the wall when not in use. When buying electrical appliances look for A-rated ones with Energy Saving Recommended labels as these consume least energy. Consider switching to a genuinely “green” electricity tariff such as Good Energy, Green Energy or Ecotricity. Read more...
Flying, for leisure or business, can easily become your biggest personal source of carbon emissions (see chart). Within the UK and the rest of Europe, why not drive or take a train or coach instead? Avoid travelling by air unless it is essential to do so. Read more...
Did you know that almost a half of food in the UK is wasted from farm to fork? Because a lot of energy is invested in the production and transport of food, you can help to reduce carbon emissions by only buying enough food for your forseeable needs. Buying locally-grown food can reduce transport emissions, or you could even grow your own! Transporting bottled water uses a lot of energy, so drink tap water where possible. Rearing cattle can be greenhouse-gas intensive unless they eat grass. UK beef and lamb are most likely to be grass-fed. Read more...
Getting about and driving
Nearly a quarter of all car journeys are less than 2 miles in length. Next time you make a short journey, think whether you could walk or cycle instead. For longer journeys, where possible, use public transport to reduce your carbon emissions. If you do drive, try to share your car with others, run more than one errand at once and drive efficiently. The Energy Saving Trust has tips on driving efficiently. Read more...
Heating is the biggest source of carbon emissions for most homes, but there are easy ways to reduce the energy that you use. For example, turn down your room thermostat and wear an extra layer if necessary. Better still, by carefully managing your heating and hot-water controls, you can save even more energy and reduce your bills even further. Read more...
Around half the heat is lost from a typical home through walls, windows and roofs. As a first step to keeping the heat in, you could close your curtains at dusk in winter and stop draughts around external doors and windows. Then investigate topping up your loft insulation to 270mm (11 inches) and installing cavity-wall insulation which will help to keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. Call the Act on CO2 Advice Line on 0800 512012 to ask about the grants available. If you're a tenant there are still things you can do - click here for ideas. Read more...
As our weather gets more extreme we can expect to encounter heat waves from time to time, as in 2003 when many people died in France. The old and very young are especially vulnerable to high temperatures and we all sleep better if the indoor temperature is not too high. As for keeping warm, the solution for keeping cool is largely down to insulation but in this case a well insulated house is required which will keep out the heat from the sun. Good ventillation with a slight draught also helps. Read more
Energy-saving light bulbs use only a fifth of the energy of normal bulbs and can last ten times longer. Turning off lights in empty rooms and outside lights at bed-time saves energy too. Read more...
Reduce, re-use, recycle
Energy has been used to make and transport every item that we buy. By reducing the amount we consume, or buying second-hand, we can reduce our carbon footprint. Try to repair things rather than replace them, and give away or sell things you no longer need. Read more...
Rain water is free but energy is spent on making it fit to drink, piping it to our homes, heating it, and disposing of it afterwards. You can save water and energy by taking (non-power) showers instead of baths and only using your washing machine and dishwasher when full. Ask Southern Water (0845 270 0845) to fit a free water meter so you can see how much you’re using. Read more...
You can do even more to reduce climate change by encouraging others to follow your example. Also, in today’s consumer-driven society, every purchasing decision you make influences the manufacturer and retailer, so buy green products and support businesses that are trying to reduce their carbon footprints. We are all citizens as well as consumers, so you might decide it is time to get more involved in political campaigning. Lobby for a climate change policy at your workplace, school or college, or join a campaigning environmental group. Read more...
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 footprints.
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.