40 of the Latest and Greatest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home
Doing your part to protect the planet this Earth Day can be as easy as making small, strategic changes to your everyday routine.
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What is a carbon footprint?
At this point, we know that we're in the midst of a climate crisis. Global temperatures are the highest they've ever been, making Arctic ice melt and sea levels rise, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Carbon dioxide levels are also at their highest in 650,000 years, which is why we've heard a lot about our "carbon footprint." But what, exactly, is a carbon footprint? Most importantly, how and why should we reduce it? Essentially, your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from each of your daily activities, as well as the products you consume. Whether you realize it or not, every time you get in a car or on a plane, adjust your thermostat or buy produce, it affects the environment. So, how can we reduce our carbon footprint? Though it may seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do in your own home that can make a difference. Find out what could happen if the glaciers continue to melt.
Switch to smart light bulbs
You've probably already made the switch from traditional incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient LED bulbs. That's a great first step, but you can do one better by switching to smart LED bulbs. What makes them smart? These bulbs can wirelessly connect to the internet and most importantly, your smartphone, enabling you to do things like dim the lights or change the color with a few taps. And not only are they more convenient, but they also use an average of 75 percent less energy than the conventional incandescent lighting, while lasting 25 times longer. Not sure what kind of smart bulb to buy? The Philips Hue bulbs come with high ratings, but also a hefty price tag ($181 for the starter kit). If you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, the eufy by Anker bulb also has a lot of positive reviews, with a price tag of only $19.99. Learn about 14 other bad earth habits you didn't know you have.
Use a smart thermostat
Adjusting temperature setting on your heating and cooling system's thermostat is the easiest step to save energy and conserve resources, Tim Storm, senior product manager for Trane Residential outdoor units told Reader's Digest. Setting your thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer can save up to 10 percent in energy costs each year, according to the Department of Energy. "If 78 degrees is too warm for you, you can adjust it a bit lower to be comfortable," Storm said. "Just remember that for every degree you raise your thermostat above 72 degrees, you save up to 3 percent of your cooling expenses." By using a programmable smart thermostat, it's possible to take better control over those settings. "A program can lower or raise settings based upon the daily happenings in your home," Storm explains. "A smart thermostat, however, can allow you to make changes from wherever you may be. Say you head out on vacation without making any adjustments. A smart thermostat will give you access to your settings from an app or website to make the changes and know you aren't wasting energy while you're away." The Nest thermostat is one of the most popular and user-friendly models out there. Follow these 13 tricks to save on your summer energy bill.
Upgrade your heating and cooling system
Though this may be prohibitively expensive for some, upgrading your heating and cooling system in your home to one that is more energy-efficient could end up saving money in the long run. "Heating and cooling can account for half or more of the energy use in a home," Storm says. "Today's systems were created with efficiency and resource conservation in mind. For example, replacing a system from 2006 or before with one from today can save up to 54 percent in energy costs." Specifically, replacing an older system with the combination of a heat pump and furnace can directly reduce carbon emissions by allowing the heat pump to run during milder cold snaps while limiting the furnace to operating only when extreme outdoor temperatures require the furnace for maintaining the desired indoor comfort levels. Storm recommends looking for Energy Star certified systems that have a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) ratings, noting that they'll be 15 percent more efficient than other models. Find out 13 clever ways to slash your energy bill.
Use a laptop instead of a desktop computer
If you're trying to decide what kind of computer to get for using at home, consider getting a laptop instead of a desktop, because it uses less energy. Specifically, laptops use up to 80 percent less electricity than desktops, using between one-fifth and one-third as much energy. Why is that? "Desktop computers often include power supplies with maximum capabilities far beyond its system needs at 300 watts or higher, whereas laptops contain smaller PSUs between 30 and 90 watts," Dan Stone at the Houston Chronicle writes. "As an added bonus, laptops are an additional 20 percent more power efficient when running on AC adapter power over battery power." But this also means you're going to have to put in some effort to care for your laptop, including avoiding these 13 mistakes that shorten your laptop's life.
Rethink your transportation strategy
Not everyone has the option of walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work and to run errands, but if you do, those are the best ways to reduce your transportation-related carbon footprint. However, in a lot of places, this simply isn't possible and you need a car to get around. If this is the case (and it's financially feasible), you may want to consider switching to an electric or hybrid car. While only a few years ago these cars seemed futuristic, they're now pretty standard, and electric charging stations are getting more common. When fossil fuels—like gasoline—are burned by a traditional car's engine, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere via the tailpipe. Hybrid cars use both gasoline and electricity, making them more environmentally friendly than traditional cars, but not as green as all-electric cars. The good news is that electric cars are one of 11 things predicted to be cheaper in 2020.
Use apps like Waze to avoid traffic
Not only is getting stuck in traffic annoying, but it's also not good for the environment. As we discussed above, driving a traditional car that runs solely on an internal combustion engine releases carbon dioxide into the air. When you're trapped in bad traffic, this means that your car is running—and therefore polluting—but without the benefit of you actually going anywhere. One way to help with this is to use apps like Waze that send you alerts about accidents, traffic jams, and places to avoid. Waze also has a carpool function that allows you to find other riders in your area. Find out the 22 cars with the best fuel economy and five of the worst.
Telecommute if/when you can
Though not everyone has a job that allows you to telecommute, this is becoming increasingly common. In fact, 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time, making it more popular than ever. And not only is it more convenient (working in pajamas!), it also helps reduce your carbon footprint because you're not doing your usual daily commute. With approximately 68 percent of the workforce getting to work in a private vehicle, even working from home one day a week could help reduce carbon emissions. Plus, if you've gotten in the habit of grabbing a coffee on the way to the office or using those disposable cups at work, you won't be adding to the waste when you're telecommuting—assuming you're using a mug.
Avoid buying products with palm oil
Whether or not you realize it, palm oil is found in many products, including processed foods, cosmetics, and biofuels. And while it can make these products more affordable, they come at a high cost to the environment. The biggest problem with palm oil is that rainforests are being converted into palm oil plantations. According to an article published in the journal Nature Communications, one hectare of converted land is equivalent to a loss of 174 tons of carbon, and most of this carbon will find its way into the air as carbon dioxide. "The quantity of carbon released when just one hectare of forest is cleared to grow oil palms is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by 530 people flying from Geneva to New York in economy class," the authors of the study wrote. So what can you do to help? Believe it or not, peanut butter is a good way to start. Because many varieties of peanut butter contain palm oil, do your homework and switch to a brand that doesn't contain the oil. These include Wild Friends, Spread the Love, and Crazy Richard's.
Shop local when you can
The whole "shop local" and "eat local" movements may seem like a trend, but it's actually a great way to reduce your carbon emissions. It makes sense: if you're purchasing and eating foods that come from near where you live, you're not relying on the plane, trucks, and ships required to ship in foods from other locations. Because each of those methods releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, cutting back on them can help reduce your carbon footprint. Not only that, but by buying local, you're supporting farmers and food producers in your area, and getting foods when they're much fresher—without having to wait for them to be imported from somewhere else. Be aware, however, that not all the food at a farmer's market is local or fresh.