The five biggies:
1. Measure and measure again
So you measured your carbon footprint and discovered that your family is about average: 20 tons of Carbon a year. That’s great, but keep measuring! Can you get down to 18 this year? 16 next year? The only way you’ll know is if you keep track of your energy usage from year to year.
Okay, so maybe you don’t want to live like the average Indian, who uses 1.5 tons a carbon every year. But how about aiming for the average European, who lives on half the carbon that we do?
2. Reduce your carbon-based travel
For most Americans, this is the easiest way to cut carbon. We average over 12,000 miles for each car we own. For a two-car family, that’s almost 12 tons of carbon right there! In addition, the average American flies 2,500 miles each year, meaning an additional 1.5 tons.
How to save? Research shows that 44 percent of our car trips are two miles or less: take stock of where you’re going and consider walking, biking or using public transportation. Combining trips and carpooling can also save over time.
Slow down. A small, light car that gets 35 mpg at 55 miles per hour only gets 25 mpg at 70. But also consider slowing down your life. We cut down our trips to our Midwestern relatives to once per year—and this time we’re going by train, which uses much less carbon. If your business requires a lot of travel, explore teleconferencing; the technology is better and cheaper than it used to be.
3. Reduce your home heating (and cooling)
Heating the average home with oil uses about 8 tons of carbon each year—half that if you use natural gas. Turning down your thermostat just 1 degree can save hundreds of pounds of carbon. Like it warm? Then cut drafts, add insulation and watch your energy bills (and carbon usage) go down. Close curtains at night to keep heat from radiating out, and consider replacing your old thermostat with a programmable one that can turn the heat off when you’re away and back on before you come home.
Air conditioning can also use up to 3 tons of carbon each year—so save it for the days when you really need it. In summer, closing curtains during the day and opening windows only at night can help keep the house cool.
4. Reduce your electricity usage
For those of us in coal country, electricity usage can account for several tons of carbon. Lighting is an easy and obvious place to save, but remember to recycle your burned-out CFLs. Refrigerators alone use about 20% of your annual electricity, however. Buying an energy star appliance, and learning to live with a smaller refrigerator, can save a lot. Clothes washers are another energy hog; switching from hot to warm water for two loads each week can save 500 pounds of carbon. A high efficiency washer wrings out more water, reducing drying time - or consider using a clothes line or drying rack to eliminate the dryer altogether. In winter, drying clothes indoors is a natural humidifier.
And remember what your mother told you: turn off the lights when you leave the room; turn off the TV when you’re done with it; unplug your electronics when not in use (okay, she never said that, but it’s still a good idea). Nothing is more energy efficient than off!
5. Have an impact on your congregation, your work place and your friends
This one may be hardest of all, but someone has to do it. Start a Green Team at work and consider ways to cut energy usage—talk up saving money and your boss may give you a raise! Do you really need to travel to all those conferences? Can travel be combined to be more efficient? Have you explored lighting alternatives? Remember, the average commercial building wastes 30 percent of the energy it uses.
Likewise, congregations devote a significant chunk of their budgets to the physical plant—finding ways to save energy means more money for programs. Consider holding a carbon fast for Lent, Yom Kippur or Ramadan; hold a bike to worship week. Events like these can build community in addition to reducing carbon.
Five more things:
6. Buy local
The farther from home your stuff comes, the more carbon it takes to get it there. Becoming a locavore means exploring your local worlds for food, clothing and other locally crafted items. Planting your own garden brings it even closer and you’ll swear the food tastes better, too.
7. Get rid of junk mail
It’s called junk for a reason, but shipping around pounds and pounds of it costs carbon. Also, the paper industry is the third largest industrial producer of greenhouse gases. 41pounds.org offers a reasonable service to get rid of 90% of your junk mail.
8. Go second-hand
Keeping things out of the waste stream has a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in terms of the methane emitted from garbage dumps. Shopping at Goodwill and other second hand stores - and making use of Craigslist, freecycle and yard sales – creates a market for stuff that would otherwise be thrown away.
9. Trim your lawnmower
Or trim your lawn. Americans spill 17 million gallons of gas every year trying to fill their power equipment. Turning your lawn into gardens or natural areas cuts down on the need to mow. And switching to an electric (or better yet, a reel) mower cuts down on emissions. I’ve used a Brill reel lawnmower for 10 years now.
10. Go solar
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Solar water heaters are everywhere in China, Europe and much of the world, and there are new incentives for putting solar electricity panels on your roof. Small changes to your house can also make use of passive solar, decreasing the need for cooling in summer and heating in winter.
Reduce your carbon footprint
10 things that everybody can do right now: