The term, 'carbon footprint' refers to the number of greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. These activities can range from driving a car to eating a steak dinner, and you might be surprised by how much of an impact your day-to-day decisions can have on both a professional and personal level.
Understanding the carbon footprint of everyday things can help us all make more informed choices about our lifestyles and reduce the impact on the environment.
We might struggle with the term being more sustainable, but we believe just thinking about how we all act more responsibly is an easy concept to implement.
In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the carbon footprint of some common everyday things.
Food is responsible for ¼ of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and the two foods with the highest carbon footprint are the two present in nearly all of our diets 1. meat and 2. dairy. These two foods alone account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation. Red meat and dairy products have a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods, as they require more resources to produce.
Grazing animals require a lot of land which is often cleared through deforestation, which accounts for 15% of global GHG emissions. Additionally, the digestive systems of cows and sheep produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.
On average beef has a carbon footprint of 36kg of CO2 per kg, this is nearly four times the amount of chicken which is around 6kg of CO2 per kg of meat. Similarly, cheese has a high carbon footprint of 13.4kg per kg of cheese and milk has a carbon footprint of around 2.4kg of CO2 per litre.
The difference between meat and plant production is drastic, just 1kg of wheat produces 2.5kg of GHG gasses meaning that if you have a plant-based diet your everyday carbon footprint will be lower than that of a meat eater. However, the carbon footprint of plant-based foods can still vary depending on factors such as the type of crop and how it was grown. For example, avocados have a higher carbon footprint due to the long-distance transportation required to bring them to the supermarket than locally grown vegetables.
Reducing the carbon footprint of food can be achieved through various means, such as:-
- reducing food waste
- eating more plant-based foods
- choosing locally sourced, seasonal, and sustainably produced foods.
- cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce your carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to an Oxford Study published in the Journal of Science.
So why not insist at the office that all company lunches for things like “lunch and learns” are 50:50 vegetarian and meat?
By making more conscious choices about what we eat, we can help reduce our impact on the environment and contribute to a more sustainable food system.
Transport is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, responsible for ⅕ of global CO2 emissions. The carbon footprint of transport refers to the amount of GHG emissions generated by various modes of transport such as cars, buses, trains and planes and the release of GHG that come from burning the fossil fuels needed to power these vehicles.
We will start with cars since these are the most common forms of transport, used by most people regularly (maybe not in London with the traffic these days). The average passenger car emits 300g of C02 per mile which equates to on average 4.6 metric tons (1 metric ton= 1,000kg) of CO2 per year. Whilst the CO2 emissions from cars have been dropping in the last 20 years as electric cars and more public transportation has been introduced, passenger cars still account for 41% of all transportation emissions.
In comparison, those of you who take the tube or train every day, according to the European Environment Agency, produce only 14g of CO2 emissions per passenger mile, nearly 20 times less than in a car. Travelling by train regularly lessens your daily impact on the environment.
But if trains are not accessible to you consider ride-sharing, if 2 or 3 people share a car journey it becomes much more environmentally efficient.
Whilst very few of us are flying daily, the few times you may fly a year still have an astounding impact on the environment. A short-haul flight is on average over 2500km, meaning that a huge amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere with every flight. The average short-haul return flight produces 400kg CO2.
The average long haul return rockets up to 800kg of CO2. These are huge numbers therefore you must counter any flights you take and even any car rides you take daily.
A few ways to reduce your transport carbon footprint were mentioned earlier but to summarise here are 6 things you could do daily to reduce your carbon footprint, even the seemingly small changes make a difference;
- Using public transportation or carpooling instead of driving alone
- Switching to electric or hybrid vehicles
- Encouraging cycling and walking as alternative modes of transportation
- Reducing air travel and using video conferencing instead
- Improving fuel efficiency and reducing the weight of vehicles
- Investing in renewable energy and alternative fuels (such as biofuel)
Quite obviously clothes are an everyday essential but is it really necessary to have a new outfit for every day or every occasion?
The short answer is no.
Whilst wearing something new and exciting every day seems thrilling, it is crippling for our environment.
Fast fashion accounts for 10% of all global carbon emissions whilst increasing pollution, waste and exploiting workers. Clothes are incredibly resource intensive, with one cotton shirt requiring 2,7000l of water to make, enough water for one person for 2.5 years. And it takes over 10,000 litres of water to make enough cotton for a single pair of jeans.
Therefore, your clothes should be cherished, it is not necessary to have a new shirt or new jeans every day, if you re-wear your clothes you begin to slowly reduce the impact that the items had on the environment by making the most of the resources used.
To reduce your daily carbon footprint in the fashion department consider;
- Choosing clothes made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester.
- Buying clothes from ethical and sustainable fashion brands that prioritise sustainable practices and transparent supply chains.
- Buying second-hand or vintage clothing, which reduces the demand for new clothing production and helps reduce waste and celebrating it in the office
- Washing clothes in cold water, line dry them, and avoid using a dryer whenever possible.
- Having Pre-Loved policies for company nights out to ease the pressure on teams to always buy new outfits
4. Power (Electricity & Gas)
The amount of CO2 that is emitted from your office and home and the way you live there is surprisingly high.
Electricity and energy are the main household carbon contributors, most electricity and energy is generated from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas meaning they have a higher carbon footprint compared to electricity and energy created through renewable sources such as solar or wind.
Consumption habits such as cooling, heating or lighting create emissions and according to the United Nations properties are responsible for 21% of energy-related carbon emissions globally.
According to research from IdealHome 4.7 million Brits leave their lights on unnecessarily at night, which creates a whopping 8.9 million kg of extra carbon dioxide emissions.
Even just streaming 30 minutes of your favourite Netflix show releases 18g of CO2. Home living is one of the biggest reasons that your carbon footprint will be on the higher side daily, but it is also one of the easiest ones to reduce.
Simply turning your lights off when you're not using them, whilst sounding like a classroom cliche, is extremely helpful not only for the environment but also for your bank account. Doing things like
- Using energy-efficient appliances and electronics
- Using renewable energy sources like solar and wind
- Choosing efficient heating and cooling systems
will make a huge difference to your household carbon footprint.
The average UK carbon footprint is around 9 tonnes (1 tonne = 1000kg) and 2 tonnes in the office, if you can imagine 1 tonne is a 10m ball (or a small hot air balloon)
By making small changes to your daily life, you can easily reduce the number of carbon emissions in your life.