Reducing your carbon footprint is an important way to help protect the environment and prevent the worst impacts of climate change from occurring.
There are three main types of actions we can take with regards to reducing our individual carbon footprints:
Personal actions that directly and indirectly reduce carbon emissions
Personal infrastructure that directly reduce carbon emissions
Activism for climate change policies - using your voice and dollars to help build a movement for long term societal change
We recommend first examining areas within the first two categories to get some immediate results and then move on to climate change activism - with some firsthand knowledge on your side.
One note: the percentages in this guide are based completely on the average American carbon footprint of 18 tonnes per year. If you'd like to calculate the total kilograms or tonnes of emissions prevented with any given recommendation, simply multiply the % provided by 18 tonnes.
Action #1: Personal Infrastructure
Reducing your carbon footprint by upgrading personal infrastructure is the easiest to implement with very limited time commitment.
Part 1: Switch to solar energy - this will reduce your carbon footprint by ~14%
Because a significant part of our personal carbon footprint comes from electricity use, switching to renewable energy at home can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to slash our carbon footprint. We estimate (based on EPA figures) that 14% of the average person carbon footprint comes from electricity use at home. Switching to solar energy at home will immediately eliminate that.
There are essentially 3 ways to switch to solar energy:
Install solar with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for $0 out of pocket cost. A solar installation company will install panels at no cost to you and split the savings with you. Expect to save around $200 per year. Energy Sage and Tesla are good places to start your search.
Make a cash purchase of a solar energy system - will cost you around $10,000 - $15,000, but will save you $1000 or more per year in electricity bills. Energy Sage and Tesla are good places to start your search.
Switch to renewables through your existing utility. This is relatively painless and you can find state-by-state links to your resource at the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers.
Solar Energy - Helping you decide on the best way to get solar energy for you
Part 2: Give your Car and Home a Tune Up - reduce your carbon footprint by 5%-10%
Tuning up your car can reduce your carbon footprint by 2-5%. The main actions to take are:
Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure. This will save you 3-4% in fuel (and costs).
Change your motor oil and make sure you are using the manufacturer-recommended oil type. This will save you 1-4% in fuel.
Engine tune up, depending on how much maintenance your car needs, will save you a good amount of money on fuel and cut down on carbon emissions. This will save you 4-8% on average in fuel costs, according to fueleconomy.gov.
Part 3: Tuning up your home can reduce your total carbon footprint by up to 5%.
Switch your most-used bulbs to LEDs - this will save you between $20-$40 per year in electricity and reduce your total carbon footprint by 0.2%
Upgrade to energy efficient appliances - particularly for air conditioning, heater/boiler and refrigerator. Upgrading these appliances could reduce your carbon footprint by 5%, and if your appliances are particularly old - the savings could be much bigger than that.
Action #2: Personal behaviors to reduce your carbon footprint
Personal behaviors that are directly in your control. These are a list of actions that individuals can do. These actions will cause a direct reduction on total carbon emissions.
Examples of personal behaviors to reduce your carbon footprint:
Do It Better
Washing clothes in the laundry on cold (they get just as clean)
Dry clothes using sunshine or air drying rather than a drying machine
Only run dishwasher that is full or mostly full
Biking to work rather than driving a car
Water your lawn during the evening rather than during the midday sun (when most water evaporates)
Turn It Down
Driving an average of 10 mph slower
Accelerating more slowly saves gas rather than driving like Fast and the Furious
Eating less meat rather than more meat
Short showers vs. long showers
Lowering the thermometer of your heater
Raising the thermometer of your air conditioner
Turn It Off
Turning off the lights when you're not using them
Turning off your appliances when they are not in use
Do It Together
Carpool instead of driving alone
Bring a reusable mug for coffee
Bring a reusable water bottle
Bring reusable silverware and Tupperware for lunch, rather than disposable bags
Bring reusable bags to the supermarket
Recycle It and Dispose of It
Recycle plastic, metal, glass and paper
Compost your food (this can be done in most cities at the community compost, if there isn't one - you can start one!)
Get It Locally
Buying groceries from local suppliers
Growing your own vegetables
Action #3: Climate Change Activism
The steps above are a guide to reducing out direct carbon footprint - these are things we can directly control. However, some things are out of our control - like the establishment of a carbon tax. In order to impact regulations and decisions that are outside the control of each individual person, we can choose to support organizations that fight climate change causes at the core.
1. Purchasing carbon offsets is a form of climate change activism - it's paying for someone to reduce carbon emissions through a verified project. Learn more about how to offset your carbon footprint.
Carby Box carbon offsets are provided by our partner Wildlife Works, prevent deforestation, and are available on Amazon.
2. Support climate action through non-profits. Our favorite two non-profits for fighting climate change are below.
The Sierra Club, which is fighting to close down coal power plants - and has already closed more than 250 of them in the United States. This is hugely impactful and they can always use more support
1% for the Planet - founded by the founder of Patagonia, this non-profit certifies companies which give 1% of their gross revenue to fighting climate change. Individuals can give and support.
3. Support candidates for office.
Run for Something is an organization that is building a platform for fresh faces in local government from the progressive base.
4. Run for local office. Sometimes the most impactful positions are the one in your local community. Do your local community schools have solar power? You could bring that to them on the school board. Does your town have bike lanes? You could create them by running for local office. Have a look at your town or community board and see if they could use some fresh faces to become more sustainable.
5. Get trained by Al Gore. 3 to 4 times per year, Al Gore gives in-person trainings to people interested in joining the cause to fight climate change. You can apply at the Climate Reality Project website.
6. Read up on the issues. Some great books covering the topic are:
Climate of Hope - Mike Bloomberg and Carl Pope. Demonstrates why we should all feel optimistic and positive towards renewable energy and the end of coal - and why we should act today.
Storms of My Grandchildren - James Hansen. James Hansen is a leader in climate science and shares the truth about climate change - that it's happening even faster and more dramatically than predicted.
The Sixth Extinction - Elizabeth Kolbert. A book recommended by Obama on the current changes happening to our planet.
If fighting climate change is feeling too serious, here are some great first date ideas with a low carbon footprint.