Due to an exponential increase in climate levels since the mid-1800s, global warming has become a major threat for both human and environmental health and survival. Global warming occurs as a result of humans burning fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases that trap heat within our atmosphere. (8) As climate change continues to cause sea levels to rise, natural disasters to increase, and air quality to change, human health, food resources, and safety are all put at risk. (1)
What is a carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, that are released into the atmosphere as a result of your activities. A carbon footprint can be calculated on the scale of an individual, a household, a company, a region, or any other type of group. As carbon emissions increase, the rate of global warming is accelerated. (5) Knowing your personal carbon footprint and making informed efforts to improve it is one of the best ways for you to make a difference in fighting climate change.
Be conscious of what you consume
Your diet plays a considerable role in the size of your carbon footprint, from the foods themselves, to the way they’re processed, stored, and prepared. (10) Making informed meal choices is a great way to be conscious of your impact and actively improve your overall carbon footprint.
Eat less meat
Beef is the largest food contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, giving off over double any other food at 99.48 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions per kg of product. (10) Why are beef emissions so high? Cows are ruminant animals, meaning they have a different digestive system that produces a high amount of methane as a byproduct. (3) The animal agriculture industry is also responsible for mass deforestation to make space for cow pastures and the fields to grow their food. (4)
According to a study, following a plant-based diet can reduce these emissions by 300 to 1600 kg per year. In fact, this level of reduction is four times greater than comprehensive recycling and eight times more effective than switching to more energy-efficient household lightbulbs. (12) But if cutting out meat is too big a step, consider just reducing your intake instead. Choosing poultry or fish instead of beef reduces these emissions by over half. Simply opting for a plant-based meal one night per week is another great place to start to improve your carbon footprint. (10)
Buy seasonal and fresh produce
When it comes to your veggies, the best-case scenario is to eat seasonal, fresh produce, which you retrieve without using a vehicle. (2) Seasonal produce has lower greenhouse gas emissions because it doesn’t rely on the high-energy systems of artificial heating and lighting that are necessary for growing crops out of season. (7) Consider buying and eating your produce fresh, as freezing local produce can actually use more energy than transporting non-local, off-season produce. (2)
But don’t worry too much if you’re unable to always eat what’s in season. Since vegetable production only makes up a small portion of food emissions, the reduction from eating seasonally is minor. (11) Simply choosing the veggie option over meat is what makes the biggest difference on your carbon footprint, whether the veggies are local and in season or imported. (10)
Tip: To prevent food waste, plan your meals for the week, create a grocery list, and only purchase what you need for the week.
Live a more sustainable everyday lifestyle
Like your diet, your daily activities also contribute to the size of your carbon footprint, with transportation and energy usage being the largest contributors. (3) Becoming aware of these contributing factors and how you can avoid them will help you live a more sustainable lifestyle overall.
Not only are walking and biking healthier for you, but they’re also much better for the environment. In 2020, transportation made up 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with cars (including passenger cars, pickup trucks, and minivans) contributing the largest portion. (3) Of these car trips, 49% were short trips of under 5 km (under three miles). A 2019 study found that if people chose to walk or bike about half of these short-distance trips, it could reduce about 4% of all surface transportation carbon emissions. (9)
Cut back your electricity usage
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), commercial and residential emissions made up 13% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. This includes the electricity used for heating and cooling, cooking, lighting, and appliances. (3)
With 25% of all jobs in North America predicted to be remote by the end of 2022, people are spending more time at home than ever before. (6) B.C. Hydro suggests that while working from home, try leaving your overhead light off during the day if possible. Instead, set your workstation up near a window to take advantage of the natural light.
Switching to LED lightbulbs will also make a difference in reducing the amount of energy you’re using. And in the evenings, try using a lamp instead of overhead lighting. Not only will this create a relaxing ambience, but it will also use less energy. (13)
Here are a few more tips from B.C. Hydro on how to reduce your carbon footprint at home:
- Take shorter showers, or try cold showers.
- Turn off your air conditioning (AC) in the summer if you’re leaving your house for the day.
- Wash your laundry using cold water.
- Unplug electronics when you’re not using them (this can reduce 10% of your household’s annual emissions!). (13)
The bottom line
Climate change is a major global threat and it can be overwhelming thinking of just how much needs to be done to mitigate its effects. But when it comes to what you can do on an individual level, your personal carbon footprint is the best place to start. Every bit of effort makes a difference! If we work together as a population to do our part, it will go a long way towards preserving our planet.
- Climate change impacts. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2021, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/climate-change-impacts
- Edwards-Jones, G. (2010). Does eating local food reduce the environmental impact of food production and enhance consumer health? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69(4), 582–591.
- Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. EPA. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
- FAO and UNEP. The state of the world’s forests 2020. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/
- Jones, C. M., & Kammen, D. M. (2011). Quantifying carbon footprint reduction opportunities for U.S Households and Communities. Environmental Science & Technology. Retrieved from https://rael.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/JonesKammen-EST-2011-Quantifying_Carbon_Footprint.pdf
- Ladders. (2021, December 7). 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by end of next year. Ladders. Retrieved from https://www.theladders.com/press/25-of-all-professional-jobs-in-north-america-will-be-remote-by-end-of-next-year
- Macdiarmid, J. (2014). Seasonality and dietary requirements: Will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 73(3), 368-375.
- NASA. (2022, July 18). Overview: Weather, Global Warming and climate change. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/global-warming-vs-climate-change/
- Neves, A., & Brand, C. (2019). Assessing the potential for carbon emissions savings from replacing short car trips with walking and cycling using a mixed GPS-travel diary approach. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 123, 130–146.
- Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing Food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987–992.
- Röös, E., & Karlsson, H. (2013). Effect of eating seasonal on the carbon footprint of Swedish vegetable consumption. Journal of Cleaner Production, 59, 63–72.
- Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7), 074024.
- 21 tips: No-cost ways to save electricity. BC Hydro – Power smart. (n.d.). https://www.bchydro.com/powersmart/residential/tips-technologies/everyday-electricity-saving-tips.html?utm_source=direct&utm_medium=redirect&utm_content=21tips
- USDA. (n.d.). Seasonal produce guide. SNAP Education Connection. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide