Simple Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Updated July 2014

Many people are on board with the concept of reducing carbon emissions.  But since there are so many ways that we generate emissions, the big challenge is knowing where we can most easily and practically make an impact.

Summarizing the available research, the average US household is responsible for a whopping 59 tons of CO2 emissions per year.  Embarrassingly this is SIX TIMES the emission for the rest of world households.  When it comes to emissions, we are definitely a nation of excess and waste.  The Hinkle Charitable Foundation has a great series of reports on household emissions, available online.

The top five US household emissions areas make up over half of all emissions.  No surprises, Automotive / Gasoline is the top area contributing 20%.  Food is the second largest area at 12%.  The food number includes emissions from growing, processing and shipping the food. The next three areas are sometimes grouped into household operations. We've chosen to break them out, because the solutions are very different.  Heating & Air Conditioning is third, responsible for 11% of emissions, followed by Lighting & Appliances at 6 % and Hot Water at 4%.

Many experts agree that of the top areas, the food category may give us the easiest and fastest opportunity for reducing our carbon footprint.  This is because we make daily choices of what we eat, while our flexibility with home operations and automobiles usually have limitations, especially in the short term.

In the food category nearly half of the emissions are from red meat and dairy foods, according to a recent American Chemical Society publication.  As a combined category, red meat and dairy foods represent 6% of the total household emissions. You can see that a significant reduction in your red meat and dairy consumption would have a major impact in reducing total household emissions.  The added bonus here is the health benifits from shifting some of your food consumption to vegetables, fish and chicken.  Check out Simple Ecology Recipes for ideas on recipes and foods that are both eco friendly and healthy.


Simple Short Term Impacts:

  1. Automotive - Lowering highway speeds and eliminating "jack rabbit" starts can improve mileage by 10% to 15%. Better yet, upgrade to a hybrid or electric vehicle.
    Impact - Up to 3% Overall Carbon Emissions Reduction

  2. Food - Shifting half of high carbon Meat & Dairy meals to Chicken, Fish or Vegetables. Avoiding heavy canned goods and beverages that are transported across the country.
    Impact - Up to 3% Overall Carbon Emissions Reduction

  3. Heating & Air Conditioning - Lowering thermostats and installing a programmable model to keep use to a minimum.
    Impact - Up to 2% Overall Carbon Emissions Reduction

  4. Lighting & Appliances - Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL and LED bulbs. Line dry laundry when possible.
    Impact - Up to 1% Overall Carbon Emissions Reduction

  5. Hot Water - Turn down temperature. Don't let hot water run. Wash laundry in cold water.
    Impact - Up to 1% Overall Carbon Emissions Reduction

Pick the areas that work for you and you can easily achieve a 5% to 10% overall reduction immediately.