How to Reduce Carbon Emissions & Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, CO2 emissions, and other greenhouse gases? Look no further! Here are 10 easy steps to take, from food to transportation to fashion and beyond.

If you’ve made it here, you’re probably looking for ways on how to reduce your carbon footprint.

Or, perhaps you just want to understand why it’s imperative that we do.

Whatever the case may be, we’re glad you came!

To prevent climate change and build a more sustainable future for all, it’s important to measure our carbon footprint and find ways in which we can lower our production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

While we can’t beat climate change alone, there are many things we can do individually to help. In this post, we give you ten easy ways to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, from what you eat to what you wear and beyond.

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First, a Few Definitions

Before we begin, I thought I’d define a few of the common terms we’ll be using:

Carbon Dioxide – Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a colorless gas found naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, we humans, through manufacturing, farming, and other activities in modern civilization, have brought what was just decades ago a trace amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to dangerously high amounts, higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years! This amplifies the Earth’s greenhouse effect, causing climate change through global warming.

Carbon Emissions – Carbon emissions are a measurement of how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from strictly human activity.

Carbon Footprint – A carbon footprint is a measurement of the impact human activities have in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse Gases – Greenhouse gases (abbreviated as GHGs) are any of the gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect (warming the planet) when released or present in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the most common (along with water vapor). Other GHGs include nitrous oxide, methane, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

If you want to understand just what your carbon footprint looks like, there’s a great tool for that over at the Nature Conservancy. There, you can use their detailed carbon calculator to estimate your personal carbon footprint, including travel, life at home, food, shopping, and more!

Now that you have a better understanding of these important climate change terms, let’s continue with some ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Related Read: What’s the Difference Between Point Source and Nonpoint Source Pollution?

How to Reduce Carbon Footprint and Emissions

1. Travel Better

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average American passenger vehicle “emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” That’s a heck of a lot of CO2. But, if you’re like me and love to travel, things are much worse. I, a New York native, used to live in California. Taking just one round-trip flight between these two states generates 20% of the greenhouse gases the average American car gives off in an entire year! And that’s per person, not the entire plane’s worth of passengers.

To reduce your carbon footprint, it’s important to rethink our love of travel. When possible, fly less. Be conscious about each flight you book, and question yourself as to whether it’s necessary. If possible, find flights that use biofuel rather than fossil fuels, which can be up to 60% more efficient. And, flying coach (economy class) not only saves you money, but it contributes only a third of the per-person carbon of what someone in first class emits (due to taking up more passenger space). Finally, if you can, consider energy efficient transportation alternatives, such as an electric car or long-distance bus or train. The planet will thank you!

2. Reduce Meat Consumption

According to a study by the European Parliament, around 7–37 kg of CO2 is produced for every 1 kg of beef or lamb meat consumed. They go on to estimate that the average omnivore produces double the greenhouse gas emissions that their herbivorous counterparts do! According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, a single serving of beef (4 oz) releases more than 12 times the GHG emissions a serving of rice or potatoes.

The main culprit, it seems, is poop. To get a few fine steaks, a cow has to live and defecate for years, and each BM is full of toxic fumes. “Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy, and due to the methane released from manure management and enteric fermentation in ruminants,” says the UoM site. On top of that, they’ll require tons of water, land, and food throughout their lifetimes, making them a major contributor to deforestation. If you aren’t ready to switch to a fully plant-based diet now, at least try to eat less meat and more produce.

3. Recycle and Reuse

One of the best ways to fight climate change is to recycle, simple as that. Separate your paper, plastic, metal, glass, and organic waste, and prepare them for pickup from your municipal garbage collection authorities, as needed.

But, before you recycle, try to reuse what you can. If you had a disposable water bottle, refill it with a Brita jug a few times, saving yourself from having to wash a glass and squeezing a bit more life out of it. Use old papers cut up to make perfect note-taking material, just like they do in some offices. Turn a glass jar or tin can into a flower pot. Get creative!

Related ReadHow Does Recycling Help the Environment? (& 10+ Materials to Recycle)

4. Drive Less, Or At Least Drive Responsibly

If you’re wondering how to reduce your carbon emissions, there’s not many more impactful ways than driving less. Or, at the very least, drive more responsibly. As we stated earlier, the average American road vehicle releases about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually. Take public transportation whenever possible, or go by foot – you’ll help the climate, and you’ll get some exercise while you’re at it!

If you must drive, do so with efficiency in mind. I probably don’t need to tell you that a large Hummer has quite the negative environmental impact (unless you do the Hummer EV, of course). However, even with the energy efficiency of a Prius, there are things to keep in mind.

First, make sure your tires are properly inflated, as they’ll be more gas efficient at the right air pressure. Also, drive smoothly. Rather than accelerating when a light turns green like you’re auditioning for The Fast and the Furious, be light on the gas pedal, instead. And, when possible, use cruise control.

5. Volunteer Around Your Community

Not only does it make one of the top new year resolutions, but volunteering actually can be a great way to reduce your carbon emissions, as well. Well, in some cases, at least. Depending on the type, volunteering has many benefits, for you, for the community, and, as it so happens, for the environment!

You can help reduce pollution and slow the increase in landfill usage by volunteering around your neighborhood to clean up litter or sort recyclables out from trash. Help to conserve our forests and tree coverage by keeping areas around them tidy, or help your local government or nonprofit plant trees to replace the millions we’re losing each year.

Related Read35+ Inspiring Quotes About Volunteering & the Joy of Serving Others

6. Reduce Your Food Waste

According to The New York Times, “Globally, we throw out about 1.3 billion tons of food a year, or a third of all the food that we grow.” Unfortunately, wealthier countries are to blame here, with the United States and Canada topping the list of wastefulness with a whopping 40% of food wasted by consumers!

If eating at a restaurant, take home what you don’t finish in a doggie bag to eat for later, but avoid Styrofoam. Plan out your weekly grocery shopping so that you don’t overbuy, curbing food waste and leaving some more money in your wallet. Rather than cooking single-serving meals, try to make several servings at once and freeze or refrigerate them for consumption later.

7. Avoid Fast Fashion

If you want to make a difference and reduce your carbon footprint, one area in which to be more mindful is clothing. According to the UNEP, making one pair of jeans requires 3,781 liters of water, which is more than the water inside 5 average 4-person hot tubs! This has a carbon equivalent of more than 33 kg!

Fast fashion, the mass-produced variety of popular clothing based loosely on catwalk trends, is predominantly to blame. To offset the carbon dioxide production, use clothes as long as you can, repairing them when possible. Donate your clothing to secondhand shops if you’re tired of them, and consider buying them secondhand, as well. If your garments are absolutely finished, recycle them, and then buy new ones from manufacturers and retailers you’ve researched which use renewable energy and sustainable materials.

Oh, and use a planet-friendly laundry detergent when washing, as well!

Related ReadHow to Save the Planet by Sharing Ideas on Climate Action

8. Unplug Your Devices

Of all the best Earth Day tips we’ve listed in the past, unplugging your devices when they’re not in use is just about the easiest way toward reducing your carbon footprint. According to The New York Times, Americans alone add 44 million tons of CO2 every year simply by leaving unused appliances and cables plugged in.

See, when you leave a cable or device plugged in, a small amount of electricity still gets released. So, when you wake up in the morning and unplug your phone, unplug the cable from the wall. After using your hairdryer or the coffeemaker, unplug these as well until the next time you need it; they will heat up just as fast, after all 😉 And, not only will you help lower your carbon footprint, but you’ll save a bit of money each month on your electricity bills, as well!

9. Be Mindful of Electricity Usage

One of the easiest and quickest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce how much electricity you use at home. We already talked about unplugging cables and devices to lower energy use and take climate action, but we can go much further.

Start off by replacing all your lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED lights, which can live for up to 25x as long while using only a fraction of the electricity an incandescent bulb would use. If you have the option and the resources, install solar panels or other producers of clean energy for your home or apartment. When it’s time to buy a new microwave, fridge, or washing machine, look at their energy efficiency labels to decide.

Related Read10 Ways to Support the Sustainable Development Goals With Little Money

10. Get Support & Stay Motivated

When thinking about ways to reduce your carbon footprint, there are a lot of things we can do. From lowering our dependence on fossil fuels to switching to a plant-based diet to taking public transportation more often, we all can make a difference.

However great these sustainability practices are, it’s only helpful if we can sustain them! It can be easy to lose your motivation or revert to old practices when no one’s watching or too much is going on in your life.

To help you reduce your carbon footprint and maintain that mindset, get support. Find friends in university, make new acquaintances online, or reach out to family members who share your passion for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and preventing climate change. Set up a weekly check-in to talk about progress and obstacles, and see if you can find new ways to reduce your carbon footprint in the period to come. Share your ideas with each other.

If you’re looking for a niche community where you can locate students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals around the world who care about renewable energy, climate change, and sustainable practices, look no further! On Goodwall, you can share your ideas on these things and others with the perfect audience to ensure you stay motivated and on track.

Hope to see you there!

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Related Read55+ Best Climate Change Quotes to Inspire Action for the Environment

Do you have any other tips on how to reduce carbon emissions, lower our reliance on natural gas / fossil fuels, waste less, or generally be more sustainable? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Kyiv, Ukraine after living in Warsaw, Poland for the past 4 years. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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